April 6, 2014
Ebola Outbreak Brings Fear To Africa
Ebola is a disease that strikes fear into the hearts of those who might be at risk. A new epidemic is spreading through the African country of Guinea at an alarming rate and surrounding countries are taking action to prevent it crossing their borders. It is probably too late and containment is the priority. What do we know about EVD, Ebola Virus Disease, and what makes it so deadly and so terrifying?
Ebola was first identified in two separate but simultaneous outbreaks in 1972. One was in Sudan and the second in Yambuku in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, close to the Ebola River from which the virus takes its name. The disease is common in animals like chimpanzees, monkeys, gorillas, antelopes, porcupines and fruit bats. But in the 1972 outbreaks, the virus made the transition from animal to man. Any contact with these animals could have been responsible. Many of them form part of the diet of the local population.
The death rate for those who contract this disease is anything up to 90 percent, depending on the particular strain of the virus involved. So chances of survival are slim, especially as, in many areas where Ebola is found, medical facilities are poor and thin on the ground. It is most common in remote areas of Central and West Africa, in villages that are often close to tropical rain forests. It can spread rapidly, making it hard to control. It is passed from human to human by direct contact, but also by contact with body fluids or organs, as well as with any part of the environment, even things like a shared towel that has been contaminated. Funerals of the deceased are a major risk, as contact with the body can pass on the infection. Survivors can remain a source of infection for up to seven weeks. Medical and support workers are at great risk, both from contact with patients and from samples and specimens, which are considered extreme biohazards.
EBV is a severe acute viral illness. It can take from two to 21 days after contamination for signs of infection to occur. The first symptoms are almost flu-like, usually consisting of sudden high fever, extreme weakness, sore throat and painful muscles. This is soon followed by violent vomiting and diarrhea, rash, and impaired liver and kidney functions. Another common symptom that makes Ebola so dramatic is internal and even external bleeding. Although vaccines are being tested, as yet there is no preventative or cure available and no specific treatment.
In the current outbreak, thought to be from one of the most virulent strains, 122 cases have been identified in Guinea and at least 80 of those have died so far, along with a further four people in Liberia. There are unconfirmed cases in Sierra Leone. What concerned health workers most was the unprecedented way in which the current outbreak occurred simultaneously in several widely separated areas at once. Worryingly, the infection has reached Guinea’s capital Conakry with a population of 2 million.
Fruit bats are a delicacy in the areas where this outbreak first appeared and WHO – the World Health Organization – is advising people against any contact with these and other animals that could be a source. Guinea has banned the sale and consumption of bats. Liberia’s health minister has advised people not to shake hands, kiss, or have sex. Countries neighbouring Guinea are restricting travel and Senegal has closed its border with Guinea.
The European Union has pledged support in dealing with the problem and charities and medical teams are doing what they can but this is a serious outbreak with the potential to become the worst ever recorded.
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