Friday 23 February 2018

The facts about the Ebola Virus Disease

The Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) has killed over 600 people since it was first diagnosed in February this year. We look at what exactly the disease is, and its symptoms.

The ebola virus
The ebola virus

Harriet Alexander

The Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) has killed over 600 people across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since it was first diagnosed in February this year, and it was reported today that Nigerian city of Lagos shut down and quarantined a hospital where a man died of this highly infectious disease. Following this, we look at what exactly the disease is, and its symptoms.

What is Ebola?

Ebola virus disease, formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, is described by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as "a severe, often fatal illness in humans."

It first appeared in 1976 in two simultaneous outbreaks - in Nzara, Sudan; and in Yambuku, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The latter was in a village situated near the Ebola River, from which the disease takes its name.

It is mainly found in tropical Central and West Africa, and can have a 90 per cent mortality rate - although it is now at about 60 per cent.


How is it transmitted?

The virus is known to live in fruit bats, and normally affects people living in or near tropical rainforests.

It is introduced into the human population through close contact with the sweat, blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals such as chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines found ill or dead or in the rainforest.

The virus then spreads in the community through human-to-human transmission, with infection resulting from direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) and indirect contact with environments contaminated with such fluids.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the disease is not contagious until a person begins to show symptoms.

A big problem in West Africa is that burial ceremonies, in which mourners have direct contact with the body of the deceased person, can increase the spread of the disease because a person can transmit the virus even after death.

Men who have recovered from the disease can still transmit the virus through their semen for up to seven weeks after recovery from illness.

The ebola virus

What does it do to the body?

Symptoms begin with fever, muscle pain and a sore throat, then rapidly escalate to vomiting, diarrhoea and internal and external bleeding.

The incubation period, that is, the time interval from infection with the virus to onset of symptoms, is from two to 21 days.

Health workers are at serious risk of contracting the disease - two American doctors have already contracted it, and a Liberian medic has died.

Early treatment improves a patient's chances of survival.


How is it treated?

There is currently no vaccine or cure, and testing to confirm the virus must be done with the highest level of biohazard protection.

Severely ill patients require intensive supportive. Patients are frequently dehydrated and require oral rehydration with solutions containing electrolytes or intravenous fluids.

A significant problem with the current outbreak is families lose faith in Western medicine, which cannot yet cure the patients. They then take them home to traditional village healers, which often leads the disease to spread.

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