The Ebola virus, also known as Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever, is a rare deadly virus that causes bleeding inside and outside the body. The virus spreads through the body and damages the immune system and organs. It causes levels of blood-clotting cells to drop, leading to severe and uncontrollable bleeding. It is often fatal when contracted with statistics pointing at a 90% death rate of infected people.
The first occurrences of the virus was in 1976. There were two simultaneous outbreaks, one in what is now Nzara, South Sudan, and the other in Yambuku, Democratic Republic of Congo. The latter occurred in a village near the Ebola River, from which the disease is named. The long-term host of Ebola virus is believed to be bats, particularly fruit bats.
The Ebola virus and its genus were both originally named Zaire Ebola Virus after Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), one of the countries in which it first occurred. In 2010, it was renamed to just Ebola Virus.
Ebola virus is the single member of the species Zaire ebolavirus, which is the type species for the genus Ebolavirus, family Filoviridae, order Mononegavirales. The virus family Filoviridae includes three genera: Cuevavirus, Marburgvirus, and Ebolavirus. There are five species that have been identified: Zaire, Bundibugyo, Sudan, Reston and Taï Forest. The first three, Bundibugyo ebolavirus, Zaire ebolavirus, and Sudan ebolavirus have been associated with large outbreaks in Africa. The virus causing the 2014 West African outbreak belongs to the Zaire species.
This recent outbreak was the largest and most complex Ebola outbreak since the Ebola virus was first discovered in 1976. There were more cases and deaths in this outbreak than all others combined. It spread between countries starting in Guinea, then spreading across land borders to Sierra Leone and Liberia. Travelers then helped moving it to Senegal and Mali, and by air to Nigeria and USA.
The most severely affected countries during this outbreak were Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone because of their inability to tackle the virus due to the very weak health systems, lack of human and infrastructural resources which can be attributed to the recent conflicts in the regions.
The WHO Director-General declared the West Africa outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern under the International Health Regulations (2005).
Ebola Symptoms and Transmission
The early symptoms of Ebola are flu, fever, fatigue, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. Weakness, Stomach pain and lack of appetite have also been listed as symptoms.
The time interval from infection with the virus to onset of symptoms is 2 to 21 days. Humans are not infectious until they develop full symptoms. Full symptoms include internal bleeding, as well as from the eyes, ears, and nose. Some people vomit or cough up blood, have bloody diarrhea, and get a rash. Laboratory findings include low white blood cell and platelet counts and elevated liver enzymes.
Ebola isn’t as contagious as more common viruses like colds, influenza, or measles. It can not be gotten from air, water, or food. It spreads to people by contact with the skin or bodily fluids of an infected animal, like a monkey, chimp, or fruit bat. Then it moves from person to person the same way.
Health care workers are susceptible to the virus while treating patients when infection control precautions are not strictly practiced. Also, burial ceremonies in which mourners have direct contact with the body of the deceased person can also play a role in the transmission of Ebola. People remain infectious as long as their blood contains the virus.
Diagnosis and Treatment
It is difficult to distinguish Ebola virus disease from other frequent occurring diseases such as malaria, typhoid fever and meningitis. Confirmation that symptoms are caused by Ebola virus infection are done by testing blood and tissues of the patients. Samples from patients are an extreme biohazard risk and all tests should be conducted under maximum biological containment conditions.
Unfortunately, there is no absolute cure for Ebola right now, although significant research has been done and a treatment of destroying infected cells with an experimental serum exists.
Doctors manage the symptoms of Ebola with fluids and electrolytes, Oxygen, Blood pressure medication, Blood transfusions, Treatment for other infections.
Since there is not any cure for the Ebola virus till date, the best way to avoid contacting the disease is by not traveling to areas where the virus is found. When there is an outbreak, a package of interventions (case management, surveillance and contact tracing, a good laboratory service, safe burials and social mobilisation, community engagement and enlightenment/awareness) are applied to help successfully control the outbreak.
Health care workers can prevent infection by wearing masks, gloves, and goggles, whenever they come into contact with people who may have Ebola.