Perhaps no virus strikes as much fear in people as Ebola, the cause of a deadly outbreak in West Africa.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports more than 7,100 confirmed or suspected cases of Ebola in the countries of Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone as of Sept. 28. More than 3,300 people have died in the largest Ebola outbreak ever recorded.
What is Ebola virus disease?
Ebola virus disease (formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever) is a severe, often fatal illness, with a death rate of up to 90%. The illness affects humans and nonhuman primates (monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees).
Ebola first appeared in 1976 in two simultaneous outbreaks, one in a village near the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the other in a remote area of Sudan.
How is it spread?
The natural reservoir of the virus is unknown and it is not always clear how the virus first appears in humans. Usually the first person gets infected through contact with an infected animal.
People can be exposed to Ebola virus from direct physical contact with body fluids like blood, saliva, stool, urine, sweat etc. of an infected person and soiled linen used by a patient.
It can be spread through contact with objects, such as needles, that have been contaminated with infected secretions.
The incubation period, or the time interval from infection to onset of symptoms, is from 2 to 21 days. The patients become contagious once they begin to show symptoms. They are not contagious during the incubation period.
Ebola virus disease infections can only be confirmed through laboratory testing.
What are the signs and symptoms of EVD?
- Sore throat
- Joint and muscle aches
- Stomach pain
- Measles like rash
- A rash, red eyes, hiccups and Bleeding from body openings may be seen in some patients
Is there a vaccine?
Currently, there is no licensed medicine or vaccine for Ebola virus disease, but several products are under development
How do I protect myself against Ebola?
If you must travel to an area affected by the 2014 Ebola outbreak, protect yourself by doing the following:
- Wash hands frequently or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid contact with blood and body fluids of any person, particularly someone who is sick.
- Do not handle items that may have come in contact with an infected person’s blood or body fluids.
- Do not touch the body of someone who has died from Ebola.
- Do not touch bats and nonhuman primates or their blood and fluids and do not touch or eat raw meat prepared from these animals.
- Avoid hospitals where Ebola patients are being treated.
- Seek medical care immediately if you develop fever (temperature of 101.5°F/ 38.6°C) and any of the other following symptoms: headache, muscle pain, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, or unexplained bruising or bleeding.
- Limit your contact with other people until and when you go to the doctor.
- Report any suspected cases of Ebola to the nearest health unit immediately.
- Suspected cases should be isolated from other patients and strict barrier nursing techniques implemented.
- All hospital staff should be briefed on the nature of the disease and its transmission routes.
Hospital staff should have individual gowns, gloves, masks and goggles. Non-disposable protective equipment must not be reused unless they have been properly disinfected.Infection may also spread through contact with the soiled clothing or bed linens from a patient with Ebola. Disinfection is therefore required before handling these items.
Communities affected by Ebola should make efforts to ensure that the population is well informed, both about the nature of the disease itself and about necessary outbreak containment measures, including burial of the deceased. People who have died from Ebola should be promptly and safely buried.