Ebola-An Unknown Enemy

Ebola Virus Disease, formerly known as the Ebola hemorrhagic fever is an infectious and generally fatal disease which cause fever and severe internal bleeding eventually resulting in death of the infected patient. It spreads through contact with the infected body fluids by a filo virus, whose host species is unknown.

Background

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Ebola virus disease was first seen in the year 1976 in 2 cases, one in Nzara, Sudan and the other in Yambuku, Dominican Republic of Congo. The second case appeared in a small village near the river Ebola from which the disease takes its name.

The current and the largest outbreak of this deadly disease was first reported in the remote southeast Guinea in the month of March, 2014. The current outbreak has spread like a fire in West Africa. Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea alone have witnessed a total of about 20, 000 infected cases with approximately 8, 000 deaths.

On August 8, 2014, the Director-General of the WHO issued a statement declaring this outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

Also according to some reports, cases of an outbreak have been observed in Boende, Equateur, a remote part of Dominican Republic of Congo.

Transmission

Ebola does not spread through air, water or food. It only spreads through direct contact with the infected person's bodily fluids or blood. It is unknown how Ebola is transmitted from animals to humans but according to a particular research it is found in some primates like Fruit Bats which have been doubted to be the cause of the outbreak in West Africa. Though it usually spreads through direct contact, its human-to-human transmission is quite fast and does affect a large population.

Symptoms

The time period from the injection of the virus in the body to the onset of the symptoms is generally 2 − 21 days, most often between 4 − 10 days.

The first signs of the virus generally include fever, feeling tired, weakness, headache, sore throat and muscle and joint pain. This is often followed by diarrhea, vomiting, rash symptoms on the body and abdominal pain. Also chest pain, shortness of breath and headaches maybe observed. This would be followed by both internal as well as external bleeding. Death if it occurs may be in the next 7 − 14 days from the first observation of the symptoms and would be due to low Blood Pressure from fluid loss.

If a person survives the virus then he/she often observes muscle and joint pain, liver inflammation and decreased or in rare cases loss of hearing. These people additionally develop antibodies against Ebola which last up to 10 years. Also the people who have survived the virus cannot transmit the disease anymore.

Diagnosis

It is difficult to differentiate Ebola from other infectious viruses like malaria and typhoid fever as the early symptoms are similar. Therefore only a number of specific laboratory tests can identify the virus in a patient's body.

Some specific Lab. Tests are:

  • Serum neutralization test
  • Antigen-capture detection test
  • Electron microscopy
  • Virus isolation by cell structure etc.

Treatment

As of now there is no proven treatment to cure Ebola virus but it is observed that early supportive care with rehydration through oral and intravenous ways may improve survival chances. Currently there are 2 vaccines under human trial

Prevention

Basically for people who take care of the infected patients it is very important to use the necessary protective gear so they themselves do not get infected. It is strongly advised to cover mouth and nose when dealing with Ebola patients. Also when in contact with a patient it is recommended to wash hands with bleach solution to avoid the spread of the virus. There are 2 helpful techniques which if followed can curb an outbreak. They are:

ISOLATION: In this the infected person is separated and kept isolated from the rest of the population so he/she does not come in any direct contact with them.

CONTACT TRACING: In this process those who have been in contact with the infected individual are closely observed for about 21 days for any signs of the virus. If the signs are then found in the individual then he/she is isolated, tested and treated. This is a very important step in preventing an outbreak.

Economic Implications

The economic impact on West Africa mainly the 3 countries-Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia has been brutal. Already in a weak economic state these countries have been broken to their knees. They were just coming out from a civil war and were showing the first signs of growth when this epidemic struck.

The major areas where these countries have been gravely affected are:

Travel and Tourism has been stopped in the affected regions.

Treatment costs have shot up which has resulted in borrowing of loans from various international financial institutions.

Research cost is still at a rise.

The cost of living was initially contained but is now getting out of hand.

Exports from the affected countries have gone down, so enough revenue is not being generated.

The above economic effects of the crisis are not mainly due to direct costs but due to the change in behavior of the people due to fear of catching Ebola.

Author's Insight

The Author feels that though there are steps being carried out and there is a Global Unity to fight the disease and help the effected, the international organizations could focus their funds and carry out their operations more critically so as to get the best result possible and prevent a global spread of this outbreak.

Furthermore I feel that the government of various nations and The U. N are in a good position to solve this epidemic before it gets out of hand anymore.

Author: Satyajay Jethwa