Between 2014 and 2016, Ebola became a household name in Africa. News reports were filled with alarming stories of the casualties. In 2014, BBC reported that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was the world’s deadliest till date and the World Health Organization declared an international health emergency as more than 3,850 people died of the virus in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria that year.
Although it was somewhat curtailed in 2017, fresh outbreaks of Ebola recently have already claimed more than 2 dozen lives in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
What is Ebola?
Ebola [EVD] is an infectious disease that causes internal bleeding and often proves fatal, with a fatality rate of 90 percent. The Ebola virus was first discovered in 1976 in Nzara, South Sudan and Yambuku, DRC, and it got its name from the Ebola River, which is close to the village where it first occurred in Congo.
How is it transmitted?
Fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family are believed to be the natural carriers of the virus. Ebola is introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals such as chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines found ill or dead or in the rainforest.
It is then spread rapidly through direct contact (e.g. broken skin or mucous membranes) with small amounts of bodily fluid of infected people and with surfaces and materials (e.g. bedding, clothing) contaminated with these fluids. In the 2014 West African Ebola outbreak, cultural practices like washing the bodies of the deceased before burial are thought to have hastened its spread.
People remain infectious as long as their blood contains the virus
The Ebola Virus does not die with the death of an infected person. In fact, health-care and mortuary workers have frequently been infected while treating patients with suspected or confirmed EVD or even dead people.
What are the symptoms?
Typically, the symptoms appear 8 to 10 days after exposure to the virus, however and in some cases, the time between exposure and observance of first symptoms (incubation period) could span 2 to 21 days.
Weakness, fever, aches, diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain are the basic symptoms, closely followed by skin rash, red eyes, chest pain, throat soreness, difficulty breathing or swallowing and bleeding (including internal) from the eyes or gum.
Mr Olufemi Akiyode, a Public health professional with specialization in Epidemiology at Oyo State Ministry of Health says “ebola is transmitted through body fluid, when in contact with the human epithelia surface (Mucosa and Skin) and enter the blood stream then the person is infected. Its looks like malaria when it first starts, but towards the end, it will now manifest fully with diarrhea.”
Ebola is not a Myth!
Different myths surround the disease. These include that routine blood tests and school vaccinations are a campaign to infect children with Ebola and as a government measure to depopulate a region or that ebola can be cured by home remedies, like a mixture of hot chocolate, coffee, milk, raw onions, and sugar. Or worse still that Ebola is not real!
Ebola is real and it cannot be cured through salt-water baths as a “magical vaccine” or by drinking a mixture of water and chlorine or condensed milk and holy water. In fact, three people were reported dead in Nigeria after drinking excessive amounts of saltwater upon the recommendation of a catholic priest.
How can it be cured?
For now, there is no known cure for Ebola, although experimental drugs are being developed to stem the spread of the virus from making copies of itself. These include three treatments – ZMapp, Favipiravir and GS-5734.
Public health experts also hope that the experimental vaccine, called rVSV-ZEBOV will help in preventing the spread of the virus. Manufactured by Merck, the rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine was shown to be highly protective against Ebola in a trial run during the West African outbreak. None of the 5,837 volunteers who took the vaccine in that trial became infected with the virus.
Blood transfusions from survivors and mechanical filtering of blood from patients are also being explored especially because research has shown that Ebola survivors are immune to the virus 40 years after.
Ebola is extremely infectious but not extremely contagious
Ebola could be considered infectious because an infinitesimally small amount can cause illness and moderately contagious because the virus is not transmitted through the air but through direct contact. And because of this, it can be prevented.
How to prevent contracting the Virus?
Practicing good hand hygiene such as washing hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, is an effective method in preventing the spread of dangerous germs like the Ebola virus.
When in an area affected by Ebola, you should avoid contact with blood and body fluids (such as urine, feces, sweat, saliva, breast milk, semen and vaginal fluids) or even items that may have come into contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids, whether they are family or not! If you suspect that you may have been infected yourself, avoid contact with others and report to local health authorities.
Also, avoid contact with bats and nonhuman primates or blood, fluids and raw meat prepared from these animals (bushmeat) or meat from an unknown source.
Health workers treating Ebola virus patients should wear protective clothing masks, gloves, gowns, and goggles; use infection-control measures such as complete equipment sterilization and routine use of disinfectant; and isolated infected patients to minimize contact with unprotected patients to protect themselves from contracting Ebola virus.