The Ebola virus, or Ebola fever, is a particularly deadly disease with a mortality rate of 60-90 percent. Originally emerging in 1976, the disease has since killed an estimated 2,000 people previous to the current outbreak. While previous outbreaks were found to have mortality rates of as high as 90 percent, luckily the most current strand only appears to be in the neighborhood of 60 percent.
There is currently an Ebola virus outbreak raging across West Africa and it has already surpassed all those which came before and holds the record as the largest Ebola outbreak ever recorded. With over 2500 confirmed cases thus far and approximately 1300 dead, this outbreak has surpassed the total deaths of all which came before it. This has led to a wide scale international response focused in and around Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Guinea and Liberia which thus far are the countries suffering the worst.
(Source of the above image: center for disease and control)
After an individual is infected with the Ebola virus, it begins to rapidly multiply within the body. Spreading by contact with infected animals it then continues to infect humans by direct contact with infected blood, bodily fluids or organs and indirectly through contact with infected environments. The amount of time it takes the virus to make itself known after exposure and infecting ranges from as little as 2 days to as many as 21 days with the average coming in between 4 to 6 days. This period of time between the initial infection and the symptoms beginning is known as the incubation period.
Early signs and symptoms: Because the Ebola virus is a severe acute viral illness, individuals may begin to exhibit symptoms such as the sudden onset of fever, general weakness, muscle pain, chills, headaches and sore throat. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that such nonspecific early symptoms can be easily misdiagnosed as the signs of other life threatening diseases such as malaria, shigellosis, cholera, leptospirosis, rickettsiosis, relapsing fever, hepatitis, typhoid fever, meningitis, the plague or a number of other viral hemorrhagic fevers. While these diseases must be ruled out first to exclude Ebola, this may lead to delay of appropriate treatment.
In time, however, more severe symptoms will rear their head. These include but are not limited to:
v Nausea and/or vomiting
v Blood in the stool
v Bloodshot eyes
v Raised rash
v Chest pain
v Stomach pain
v Severe weight loss
v Bleeding from various orifices (usually from the eyes although advanced cases may exhibit bleeding from the ears, nose and rectum).
v Internal bleeding
v Impaired kidney function
v Impaired liver function
Early symptoms of Ebola virus disease may not be enough to make the diagnosis. There are five laboratory tests which are able to confirm the presence, or absence, of Ebola, these include: Elisa (antibody capture enzyme linked immunosorbent assay), antigen detection tests, serum neutralization tests, RT-PCR (reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction assay), electron microscopy and virus isolation by cell culture. Because the Ebola Virus may only be definitively confirmed by laboratory testing, it is imperative that you contact your doctor immediately if you develop any of the symptoms described above. This is especially true if you have traveled to Africa recently or been exposed to the Ebola virus in any way. Your greatest chance of surviving is to receive treatment as soon as possible.
As there is no known cure for the Ebola virus (although several are being tested but unavailable for clinical use), the National Institutes of Health estimates that the Ebola fever is fatal in as many as 90 percent of all infected patients (NIH, 2011). The virus attacks by infecting the liver, destroying the lining of blood vessels, and causing blood clotting problems and loss of blood. When death occurs, as it usually does, hypovolemic shock due to loss of blood is most often the immediate cause.
Treatment measures: Due to the lack of a cure, the treatments usually given to those stricken with the virus are those which are able to ease the symptoms and not treat the disease. Oxygen therapy, intravenous fluids, blood transfusions, medications for the treatment of shock as well as pain medications are commonly given to the infected.
There is still hope: While it is true that the Ebola virus carries a horribly high mortality rate, not all who become infected with the virus succumb to it. While we have not yet reached a complete understanding as to why some live while most die, we have ascertained that those who do fall to the virus have failed to develop a significant immune response by the time of their death.
The easiest way in which one can avoid contracting this vicious virus is also the most obvious. You must simply avoid traveling to locations where the Ebola virus can be located. This is especially true during an active outbreak of the virus.
If you absolutely must travel to Africa, it is necessary to avoid the handling of wild animals, whether alive or dead. Contrary to popular belief, primates are not the only animals which may carry Ebola fever. In fact, primates are believed to be accidental hosts of the virus, just like humans. The forest antelope as well as the fruit bat (which is widely considered to be a natural host to the Ebola virus) have been found to carry the African subtypes of the virus and so may also cause infection.
When in close proximity to anyone with the virus, be especially mindful to wear the appropriate special protective gear at all times. This includes a gown, gloves, full face mask and eye goggles. Another precaution, best exercised often regardless of proximity to disease, it to wash your hands thoroughly whenever possible. And if any early symptoms of Ebola virus disease appear, even if you're not sure about it, see a doctor soon to rule out any possibility.