The outbreak of Ebola in 2014 was the largest in history. It has affected a large portion of West Africa including Nigeria, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. It does not appear that citizens of the United States are at risk for an outbreak of the disease. The CDC is working with the World Health Organization as well as several governmental agencies in the United States and international bodies to address the West African Ebola outbreak.
Ebola hemorrhagic fever is a disease which is caused by exposure to the Ebola virus. This disease has nonspecific symptoms, but is commonly associated with external and internal hemorrhaging or bleeding as the disease becomes more severe. This is considered to be one of the most deadly viral infections known worldwide with death rates reaching 50-100 percent when outbreaks occur. The specific fatality rate will vary based on which strain of the virus caused the outbreak.
The first cases of Ebola hemorrhagic fever were noted in Zaire in 1976 near the Ebola River which would later give the disease its name. During this outbreak, 88% of the 318 known to have contracted the virus died. It was discovered that person to person transmission would spread the disease which has caused numerous outbreaks of the virus since this time.
There are four different types of the Ebola virus which are known to cause high death rates. These are known as the Tai Forest, Sudan, Bundibugyo and Zaire with the Zaire being the most deadly. A less deadly version of the virus known as Reston was also been detected in the Philippines. This can affect a variety of animals including pigs, primates and humans causing few if any side effects.
Most of the severely deadly strains of the Ebola virus have caused outbreaks in small or medium sized towns in Africa. When an outbreak is detected these areas are quarantined until the outbreak is over. In March, 2014 some of the population infected by the Zaire Ebola strain made it to a treatment center in a large city which caused the virus to spread to a larger portion of the population. The infection has spread to the capital in Guinea and was detected again in Sierra Leone and Liberia. To date around 122 have been found to be infected during this outbreak and there were 78 deaths before April 2014. This outbreak was classified as an unprecedented epidemic.
Ebola hemorrhagic fever is caused by exposure to the Ebola virus which is a type of Filoviridae. There are five different types of this virus with four being deadly to humans. The deadly types of this virus have only been found in Africa thus far. Bodily fluids from animals or humans carrying the disease can spread the virus to others. Animal materials or infected needles from a hospital can also spread the disease.
The virus has an incubation period of around 1 week before symptoms appear. Initial symptoms can include:
As the disease worsens, late symptoms might include:
Around 50- 90 percent of those infected by the Ebola virus die. Typically these deaths are caused by low blood pressure rather than blood loss. Those that do survive have been known to have unusual complications such as sensory changes or hair loss.
Tests to confirm Ebola fever may include a test for blood clotting, liver function tests or tests for Ebola antibodies that will confirm an individual was exposed to the virus. Individuals may also be given a complete blood count test or CBC. This will measure the number of red and white blood cells and hemoglobin levels in the body to detect blood clotting patterns or check for an infection in the bloodstream. The body’s electrolyte levels may also be tested to check muscle function and for signs of dehydration which could be caused by infection.
There is not currently a treatment plan for the Ebola virus. Antiviral medication has not been found to be effective on this type of virus. Patients suffering from Ebola infection will be hospitalized and provided with intensive care to supply the body with medication and fluid to help treat shock. Those who are bleeding may need blood or platelet transfusion.
Because there is no treatment, the only way to prevent spreading the Ebola virus is to avoid areas where there is an epidemic. Those that are around people infected by the virus should wear a mask, gown and gloves to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus further.