The Ebola virus causes the Ebola virus disease(EVD), previously known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever. It was first described in 1976 by David Finkes. The virus derives its name from the Ebola river in the then Zaire (present day D.R. Congo), where the first recorded outbreak of Ebola virus disease occured. The disease kills up to 90% of the people who are infected with the virus.
The virus is transmitted to humans from wild animals like bats, monkeys, chimpanzees, antelopes and porcupines. This occurs by coming into contact with the blood or body fluids of the infected animal.
Ebola then spreads in the community through human-to-human transmission, with infection resulting from direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and indirect contact with environments contaminated with such fluids.
Health-care workers are at increase risk of infection when infection control precautions are not strictly practiced.
Men who have recovered from the disease can still transmit the virus through their semen for up to 7 weeks after recovery from illness.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
Symptoms show up 2 to 21 days after someone is infected. As the virus spreads through the body's cells, it damages the immune system and affects the blood clotting system. An infected persons gets sudden onset of fever, headache, sore throat and muscle pains. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhoea and rash.
As the disease gets worse, the person finds it difficult to breathe and bleeds from the orifices (eyes, ears, nose, mouth, genitals, anus). There may be shock and coma.
Diseases that have the same symptoms as Ebola, such as: malaria, typhoid fever, shigellosis, cholera, leptospirosis, plague, rickettsiosis, relapsing fever, meningitis, hepatitis and other viral haemorrhagic fevers must first be ruled out.
Ebola virus infections can be diagnosed definitively in a laboratory through several types of tests:
- enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA)
- antigen detection tests
- serum neutralization test
- reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction
- virus isolation by cell culture
There is no known cure.
The patient is usually hospitalized and given supportive measures for shock which include fluids and medications given through a vein.
Bleeding problems may require transfusions of platelets or fresh blood.
There is no vaccine yet against the disease. The following can reduce the risk of infection:
- Avoid contact with infected fruit bats or monkeys/apes and the consumption of their raw meat
- Avoid direct or close contact with infected patients, particularly with their bodily fluids.
- Close physical contact with Ebola patients should be avoided.
- Gloves and appropriate personal protective equipment should be worn when taking care of ill patients.
- Regular hand washing is required after visiting patients in hospital, as well as after taking care of patients at home.
Do not panic. Take precautions. Stay healthy.