The rampancy of the Ebola virus is becoming a serious cause for concern, with the outbreak now spreading across northern Liberia, Guinea, and now eastern Sierra Leone. The World Health Organization (WHO) has revealed that there have been over 1,500 laboratory-confirmed cases of Ebola virus this year alone, with around 887 deaths that have resulted from the epidemic. They have said that this is the worst outbreak in history.
What is Ebola?
The Ebola virus disease (EVD) was previously known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever (Ebola HF). This is a serious and usually fatal disease in human beings as well as non-human primates such as gorillas, monkeys, and chimpanzees. Ebola is one of several viral hemorrhagic fevers (VHF) that has been caused by infection with the genus Ebolavirus virus of the Filoviridae family.
Ebola is known to be one of the most infectious diseases in the world today, with a fatality rate of up to 90%. Infection spreads through direct contact with body fluids, blood, and tissues of people and animals that are infected with the virus. Fruit bats Fruit are the theorized potential natural reservoirs of the Ebola virus. In the African rainforest, the ebola virus spread to human when they handled infected gorillas, chimpanzees, monkeys, fruit bats, porcupines, and forest antelope.
Ebola is transmitted between humans in the following ways:
· Direct contact through mucus membranes and broken skin with the secretions, blood, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people.
· Indirect contact with any environment that has been contaminated with these fluids.
· Exposure to objects like needles which have come in contact with infected secretions
· Burial ceremonies wherein mourners may have had direct contact with an infected person's corpse.
· Men who have recovered from Ebola are still transmitters of the virus through their semen for up to 7 weeks after recovery.
· Health care workers who have treated infected patients and may have been exposed to the virus.
History of Ebola
The very first cases of the Ebola were reported in the year 1976 in n Nzara, Sudan as well as the Yambuku and its surrounding area, near the Ebola River in Zaire. This is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Over the years, intermittent cases of the virus in humans and animals have been surfacing in Zaire, Sudan, England, the US, Philippines, Gabon, Italy, Ivory Coast, South Africa, Uganda, Russia, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
Causes of Ebola
Ebola is caused by five viruses - Bundibugyo Ebolavirus (BDBV), Zaire Ebolavirus (EBOV), Reston Ebolavirus (RESTV), Sudan Ebolavirus (SUDV), and the Tai Forest Ebolavirus (TAFV). These are classified in the genus Ebolavirus, family Filoviridae. Since the natural reservoir of Ebolavirus has not yet been proven, it is unknown how the virus first appears in a human at the onset of an outbreak. The virus has been hypothesized by researchers as zoonotic (animal-borne). The fact behind this is that the very first reported case resulted from the patient coming in contact with an infected animal.
Symptoms of Ebola
The gestation period of the Eboal virus is 2 to 21 days. Usually 8 to 10 days is most common. Symptoms may include:
· Muscle and joint aches
· Loss of appetite
· Stomach pain
A few patients have reported to have experienced:
· Red eyes
· Chest pain
· Sore throat
· Difficulty swallowing
· Difficulty breathing
· External and internal bleeding
Elevated liver enzymes and low white blood cell and platelet counts are usually reported by way of laboratory tests. A patient is termed as infectious is their secretion and blood contain the virus.
While the risk of contracting Ebola is low, a higher risk if getting infected is posed when:
· Someone is travelling to Africa, where most confirmed cases of Ebola have been reported
· Animal research with monkeys imported from the Philippines or Africa are being conducted
· Infected corpses are being prepared for burial
· Medical or personal care is provided without the use of any protective gear such as gloves or surgical masks
Tests and diagnosis of Ebola
It is important that other diseases be ruled out before Ebola can be diagnosed. These diseases are typhoid fever, malaria, cholera, shigellosis, leptospirosis, hepatitis, plague, rickettsiosis, relapsing fever, meningitis, and other viral hemorrhagic fevers.
If the Ebola virus is suspected, the infected person should be isolated and the public health professionals notified. The virus can definitively be diagnosed in a laboratory through several tests within just a few days after symptoms begin. These tests are:
· IgM ELISA
· Antigen-capture enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) testing
· Polymerase chain reaction (PCR)
· Virus isolation
When it comes to the more advanced stages of the disease or post recovery, the diagnostic test available is:
· IgM and IgG antibodies
Ebola can also be diagnosed in deceased patients by:
· Immunohistochemistry testing
· Virus isolation
Treatment of Ebola
As of today, there is no licensed vaccine available to combat the Ebola virus. There are many vaccines that are currently being tested, but none of them are available for clinical use at the moment.
The treatment for Ebola as of today only involves intensive supportive care and includes:
· Balancing the electrolytes and fluids of an infected patient
· Maintaining their blood pressure and oxygen status
· Treating a patient for any complicating infections
While there are experimental treatments that have been tested and proven effective in animal models, none of them have been used in humans yet.
Prevention of Ebola
It is still relatively unknown how people are being infected with the Ebola virus. Therefore, the preventive measures involves are still unclear. There are a few primary preventive measures that may help, such as:
· Wearing protective clothing such as gloves, masks, goggles and gowns for health care professionals
· Using infection-control measures, such as routine use of disinfectant and complete equipment sterilization
· Isolating Ebola patients from contact with unprotected persons.