Ebola Virus

Ebola VirusDr. Vanya Gant has provided 10 important facts about the current Ebola outbreak in Africa and how it could impact you.

1.  Ebola virus disease (previously known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever) is a rare but severe disease, which is caused by Ebola virus. It was first recognized in 1976 and has caused sporadic outbreaks ever since in several African countries.

2.  More than 1,500 cases have been reported in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since March 2014, of which there have been more than 900 deaths. This is the first documented Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the largest ever known outbreak of this disease. There are currently no signs that the outbreak is coming under control, with new cases reported daily from both known and new outbreak areas. Cases of virus transmission continue to emerge in both the community and health-care settings. All 3 capital cities have been affected: Conakry (Guinea), Monrovia (Liberia) and Freetown (Sierra Leone). In addition, the situation in Nigeria is currently evolving and the extent to which this country will also be involved in the outbreak is unknown.

3.  The continued spread of the disease probably relates at least in part to issues of strong, local cultural beliefs (such as washing the bodies of the dead, and the stigma surrounding the disease); overpopulation and crowding; migration of people across borders; a perception by local people that the healthcare professionals attempting to help are making things worse; and inadequate human resources on a background of deep poverty.

4.  The virus is transmitted to people initially from wild animals, and then from person to person via contact with blood and body fluids. In addition, contaminated objects (clothes, needles) can also transmit infection if handled. Airborne transmission is thought to be limited to those viruses carried in large droplets of human secretions.

5.  Infection with Ebola virus leads to sudden onset of fever, chills, muscle aches, headache, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, with sore throat and in some cases a rash. This will develop as early as 2 days after infection and as late as 21 days. This is then followed by impaired kidney and liver function and stomach pain, and in some cases uncontrolled bleeding, both external (such as through puncture sites) and internal (causing vital organ damage). Ebola is fatal in 50 to 90% of cases who develop these signs and symptoms.

6.  Many other far more common illnesses in these countries start off like Ebola, such as flu, typhoid, and malaria. This makes prompt and early assessment even more important – especially since survival seems better in those cases identified early.

7.  It is very important to remember that you will not be at risk of Ebola infection unless you have been in close contact with people with the above symptoms. You cannot catch Ebola from people who are well, with the exception of close contact of a sexual nature, as patients who have recovered may still be infectious for a considerable period of time.

8.  Nevertheless, if you feel unwell with symptoms such as fever, chills, muscle aches, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, sore throat or rash within 21 days of coming back from Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone, you should stay at home and immediately telephone relevant health services.  These services will provide advice and arrange for you to be seen in a hospital if necessary, so that the cause of your illness can be determined as quickly as possible. Unless you have had direct contact with sick people in these countries, another diagnosis for which treatment is available (such as malaria) may be made, and you will be treated.

9.  For those performing humanitarian work in these countries, the risk of Ebola infection will relate entirely to the quality and consistency of your personal Infection Control procedures and discipline. Perfect and vital barrier technique includes wearing protective gowns, gloves, masks and eye protection or face shields, and the careful removal of these after use. WHO recommendations address direct patient care, laboratory activities, post mortem examinations, movement and burial of human remains, cleaning and waste disposal.

10.  In conclusion:

  • Don’t go to these countries unless you really have to
  • If you are there, be very careful to avoid crowded public places and close contact with others
  • If you are there for humanitarian purposes, go prepared, trained, vigilant, and equipped with personal protective equipment

Author: Dr. Vanya Gant

Photo from macleans.ca.

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