THIS generation is again having to go through the trauma of dealing with another dangerous virus; the Ebola virus is causing pandemonium all across the globe.
It is the virus that no-one can take for granted. It is lethal, vicious and does not discriminate against race, creed, nationality, gender, social status or sexual preference.
What is Ebola
The Ebola virus is a virus that causes a viral haemorrhagic fever, a set of serve illnesses that is MULTISYSTEMIC. This means that it affects several of the body's regulatory systems. These viruses damage the circulatory system and may be accompanied by bleeding or haemorrhage.
The virus was named after the Ebola River in the Demographic Republic of Congo, where the disease claimed its first known victim in 1976.
Another strain of the virus broke out simultaneously in Nzara, Sudan.
There are five known species of the Ebola virus:
- Bundibugyo Ebola Virus
- Zaire Ebola Virus
- Reston Virus
- Sudan Virus
- Tai Forest Ebola Virus
All but the Reston strain (found in the Phillipines) can be fatal to humans. Ebola is thought to be a ZOONOTIC or animal-borne virus, it survives in a “reservoir host"- an animal or insect that carries the virus at no cost to itself, and is passed onto other animals and humans through contact with the bodily fluids, secretions or organs of the host animals.
The virus can spread to humans who handle infected meat, especially those in the “bush meat trade" and through direct contact with the host animal or through the consumption of the meat, bodily fluids or secretions of the animals that have become infected by contact with the host.
Once present in humans, Ebola is transmitted through direct contact where broken skin or mucus membranes come into contact with the blood or secretions of the infected person.
It may also be transmitted indirectly through exposures to objects such as needles, gloves, instruments and linens that have been contaminated.This means that ALL health care workers, families and friends of those infected and exposed to the virus are at higher risk.
The virus can be transmitted through social contact, such as touching, hand shaking, kissing. It is also transmitted through semen, and can remain present in semen for up to 90 days after recovery; these patients are strongly advised against having sex for at least 3 to 6 months after recovering.
Symptoms of Ebola
Patients who get infected will begin to show symptoms anywhere from 2-21 days after exposure, but mostly between 8-10 days.
These symptoms include:
Fever, weakness, muscular pain, headaches and a sore throat (which at this stage may mimic any viral illness). However, as the disease advances, Ebola patients may start to experience vomiting, diarrhoea, a red rash, shortness of breath and a difficulty in swallowing.
The virus compromises the immune system and affects the proper functioning of the liver, kidneys, respiratory system, the skin and interferes with the blood clotting systems.
Blood clots may form and patients may experience bleeding from various sites in the body, bleeding internally and externally.
There is no VACCINE or CURE for Ebola. Treatment is limited and focused on supporting the body's immune functions; providing fluids, electrolytes and oxygen; keeping blood pressure constant and treating additional infections that may occur with antibiotics. The survival rate is VERY POOR; between 30-90% of victims die. The survival rate is thought to be related to the strength of the individual's immune system, the strain of the virus contracted, and the viral dose the person was exposed to. In addition to supportive and symptomatic treatment, health workers must ISOLATE infected person and ensure that appropriate protective gear is worn by all those in contact with Ebola sufferers.
Precautions to prevent Ebola infections
- Ebola is not particularly easy to catch BUT, the virus is highly infectious. One needs really close contact with an infected individual in order to get infected.
- In order not to get infected, direct contact with either suspected Ebola patients or infected individuals should be avoided.
- Wear protective gear at ALL times if you attend an infected persons.
- Avoid direct contact with instruments/equipments, or materials from infected patients.
- Avoid contact with a deceased Ebola patient and avoid contamination through the burial process.
- Regular hand washing and the use of potent hand sanitisers are advocated.
- Avoid handling “bush meat”, especially fruit bats or consumption of bush meats.
- Education and awareness by health authorities, media, and all stakeholders.
We all need to pull together in order to fight this dreaded virus, as practically all of us are at risk. It is a virus that has changed social interactions in many societies where it is present.
The fear of Ebola is the beginning of wisdom. However, we need not panic but be proactive and strategic in the fight.