Formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, the Ebola virus disease is quite severe and is often fatal, with a death rate of up to 90 percent. This illness can affect humans plus nonhuman primates such as gorillas, monkeys and chimpanzees.
The virus was first seen in 1976 in two outbreaks that took place simultaneously. One was in the village near the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo, while the other was in Sudan in a remote area.It is unsure where the virus originated, however from available evidence it is likely that the host of the Ebola virus is fruit bats.
How Does Ebola Spread?
The majority of cases of the virus have spread from human to human transmission in the outbreak which is currently taking place in West Africa.
Spread Through Contact of Bodily Fluids
The infection occurs from contact directly with broken skin or mucous membranes with blood or other bodily fluids or secretions like urine, stool, semen and saliva of anyone infected with the disease. Infection can also happen when the mucous membranes or broken skin of a person who is healthy have contact with items which are contaminated with the infectious fluid from an Ebola patient like bed linen, soiled clothing or used needles.
Medical Staff Are at Higher Risks
Over one hundred healthcare workers have been exposed to the Ebola virus when caring for patients who are infected. This will happen because they might not be wearing the right equipment for protection or they were not applying infection prevention and control measures correctly when they were caring for these patients. Providers of health care at any level, whether it be clinics, health posts or hospitals, need to be informed on the nature of this disease and how it is transmitted. They have to be strict in following the infection control precautions which are recommended.
The World Health Organization advises strongly that you let your local public health authority be made aware and you get the right raining, equipment such as gloves, instructions on the properly disposal and removal of the personal protective equipment, and how to stop any further infection and transmission of the disease to other family members, yourself or the community.
Transmission Can Happen at Funerals
Other transmissions have happened in communities during burial rituals and funerals. When mourners have come into direct contact with the deceased during a burial ceremony, this has played a big role in the transmission of the virus. Anyone who has died of Ebola has to be handled using strong protective gloves and clothing and has to be buried right away. WHO suggests that the deceased be handled and then buried by professionals who are specially trained and equipped to bury the dead properly in this case.
The Infected Can Be Contagious for Several Weeks Even After Recovery
Infected people remain so as long as their secretions and blood hold the virus. Because of this, anyone who is infected receives close monitoring from medical professionals and get laboratory tests to make sure that the virus isn’t circulating in their systems any longer before returning home. When the professionals deem that it is ok for the patient to return home, they aren’t infectious anymore and can’t spread the virus to anyone else in their community.
After men have recovered from this illness, it can still be spread to their partner through their semen for as long as seven weeks after they are recovered. Because of this, it is important for these men to avoid any sexual intercourse for a minimum of seven weeks after their recovery or to wear condoms if they are having sexual intercourse in the seven weeks following recovery.
How Contagious Is Ebola?
Ebola is not a disease which is highly transmissible. However, the amount of people who can get infected by one individual is high. You would have to be in very close contact with organs, blood, or bodily fluids of animals or people. If people are educated and they isolate anyone who could be infected, this disease should be able to be brought under control.
This outbreak originally spread because of the ritual burial practices which brought people in contact with fluids from the dead bodies. Could this still be a primary reason for transmission?
What Are the Signs of Ebola Infection?
Intense weakness, a sudden onset of fever, headache, muscle pain and sore throat are usual symptoms and signs. This will be followed by diarrhea, vomiting, impaired kidney and liver function, a rash, and sometimes both external and internal bleeding.
Findings in laboratories include low platelet and white blood cell counts, plus elevated liver enzymes. The period of incubation, or the interval of time from initial infection to the showing of symptoms is between two and twenty-one days. The patient is contagious once they are showing symptoms, but are not contagious during the period of incubation.
The Ebola virus can only be confirmed with laboratory testing.
When to Worry
Medical care should be sought out right away if someone has been in an area that is known to have the Ebola virus or they have been in contact with someone who is suspected or known to have Ebola and they have started to have symptoms.
In any case of someone who is suspected of having this disease, it needs to be reported to the nearest health unit immediately. Being prompt with medical care is detrimental in improving the rate of surviving the disease. Controlling the spread of the disease and carrying out infection control procedures is also very important and needs to begin right away.
How to Prevent Ebola Infection
The effects of the Ebola virus can be devastating once an outbreak starts. Currently there is no cure for Ebola, and the chance of death is as much as ninety percent once someone contracts the infection.
Since there is no vaccine currently, prevention of Ebola is focused on avoiding any direct contact with the body fluids of anyone who is already infected with the virus, including any direct contact with the body of someone who has passed away from the virus.
No vaccines exist to prevent Ebola, so the best way to avoid getting this disease is to not travel to any areas in which the virus can be found.
Anyone working in the health care field can prevent themselves from being infected by wearing protective gloves, masks and goggles each time they are in contact with anyone who could have Ebola.