Ebola, a virus also known as the Ebola hemorrhagic fever is a disease caused by the deadly Ebola virus belonging to the Filoviridae family. The first recorded cases of the Ebola virus date back 1976 and 1979, but the outbreak of 2014 is the largest Ebola outbreak in history, killing 2,630 people till date in West Africa. Majority of the cases have been recorded in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The epidemic has been wreaking havoc for the past 6 months, and new cases are being reported every day.
History of Ebola Virus
The first two outbreak of the disease was in 1976 in Nzara, Sudan, where it infected over 284 people and the mortality rate was 53% and the second one was at Yambuku, Democratic Republic of Congo where it infected 318 people and mortality rate was 88%. It then occurred in a village near the Ebola River, which is a tributary of the Congo River from which the disease gets its name. Ebola virus or Zaire ebolavirus was previously suspected to be a new strain of Marburg – the first known Filovirus.
Source of the Ebola Disease and Transmission
Although the source of the Ebola virus is unknown, fruit bats are considered to be the natural reservoir host of ebolavirus and a strain of this virus has also been found in monkeys, chimps, other primates and pigs. The virus is transmitted to humans through bodily fluids like blood, feces and urine of the infected animal. Although it is not an air or water borne disease, yet the disease becomes contagious after the appearance of the symptoms and once a person is infected, it can spread to the rest of the family members who care for him/her or by touching contaminated surface or needles.
Symptoms of Ebola Virus Disease
Many symptoms of the Ebola hemorrhagic fever are similar to the symptoms of malaria, cholera and influenza, therefore it is important to test blood samples of the patient for viral antibodies and viral RNA to confirm the disease. Some of the early symptoms of this disease include:
- Fever of around 101.5°F
- Joint and Muscle Pain
- Abdominal Pain
- Loss of Appetite
- Sore Throat
- Chest Pain
- Trouble in Swallowing
The average incubation period of the disease is 8 to 10 days and towards the latter part of this phase the bleeding and hemorrhage begins. In most cases the external bleeding occurs from the gastrointestinal tract, nose, vagina and gums along with internal hemorrhage, where patients often vomit or cough up blood and blood is also seen in stools. In most cases death occurs due to severe blood loss or from multiple organ dysfunction syndrome.
Types of Ebola Viruses:
There are five types of viruses present in the genus Ebolavirus, but only four have been shown to cause the Ebola Virus Disease. These are:
- Bundibugyo virus
- Sudan virus
- Tai Forest virus
- Reston virus
- Ebola virus
Out of these five, Ebola virus is the most fatal one, responsible the outbreak of the largest number of epidemics causing fatal hemorrhagic fever in humans.
Diagnosis of Ebola Virus Disease
It is extremely difficult to separate the symptoms of Ebola virus disease from those of malaria and typhoid fever and it is important to test blood samples for viral RNA to ensure that the patient has been infected by Ebola virus.
- Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA)
- Antigen-capture detection tests
- Serum neutralization test
- Reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (PCR)
- Electron microscopy
- Virus isolation through cell culture
Treatment for Ebola Virus Disease
Sadly, no specific antiviral drug or vaccine has been yet discovered that can prevent or cure the disease but promising research in the area of DNA vaccines is a ray of hope that ensures that a remedy will be available by November 2014. The treatment for Ebola Virus Disease comprises mostly of supportive care with administering of proper nutrition and electrolytes.
- Administering intravenous fluids (IV) and electrolytes
- Maintaining blood pressure
- Providing oxygen to support breathing
- Replenishing lost blood
- Treating other infections that might occur
Prevention and Control of Ebola Virus Disease
The best way to control Ebola Virus Disease is by preventing its transmission through preventive measures.
- Those taking care of infected patients and health care workers need to take extra precaution to prevent contact with blood or body fluids of the patient.
- Isolate patients infected by Ebola.
- Safe Injection Practice.
- Health care workers should wear a medical mask, long-sleeved gown, and gloves while handling the patient.
- Equipment surface should be sterilized.
- Direct contact with the dead body and traditional burial rituals such as washing or embalming of bodies should be avoided.
- Safe Burial Practice.
- Be careful about personal hygiene – wash hands frequently with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand rubs.
- Avoid consumption of wild game or bush meat.
- Treat bruises and injuries urgently and don’t keep them uncovered.
After Effects of Ebola Virus Disease
Ebola virus disease is one of the deadliest diseases of the world, being highly infectious it kills almost 90% of the people who are infected by it. The virus attacks the patient’s immune system’s ability to charge a defense. For those who survive, recovery is slow, and it takes months to regain strength.
Once a person recovers from Ebola, there is no further risk of spread of the virus but Ebola virus can survive in semen for up to 3 months and therefore it is best to abstain from sex for 3 months after recovery. Some of the after effects of Ebola virus disease are:
- Hair loss
- Sensory changes
- Eye inflammation
- Testicular inflammation
In the past, there have been approximately 3000 recorded cases of Ebola and 2,000 deaths. The best way to prevent Ebola while travelling to affected areas is to maintain personal hygiene and limit contact with people already infected by the virus. The 2014 Ebola outbreak has emerged as the most fatal outbreak in history affecting multiple countries in West Africa where assistance is being sent, and teams of health experts are being positioned to bring the situation under control.
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