The Ebola virus causes a disease which is called Ebola hemorrhagic fever which is simply also known as the Ebola disease. Ebola haemorrhagic fever or EVD (Ebola virus disease) is a serious ailment which can often result in death. Yambuku in Democratic Republic of Congo and Nzara in Sudan were the cities that were hit by the first Ebola outbreak in the year 1976. The name of the disease comes from the Ebola River which runs near a village in Yambuku where the virus was first discovered. The far-flung suburbs of West and Central Africa located near rainforests are among the prime locations for EVD outbreaks.
It can take anywhere between 2 to 21 days for an infected person to start showing the symptoms of the disease. This time period is known as incubation period.
Unexpected fever, muscle pain, sore throat, heightened fatigue and headache are the initial symptoms of EVD or Ebola virus disease. Vomiting, rash, impairment of liver and kidney function, external and internal bleeding and diarrhoea accompany the initial symptoms of the disease. Laboratory tests conducted to diagnose EVD show increased levels of liver enzymes in the blood and a marked decrease in platelets and white blood cells.
Ebola virus can remain active in the semen of an infected man for a period of up to 61 days after the appearance of the symptoms. Thus, the Ebola virus can be transmitted from a person to another until the infected persons’ body fluids and blood are clean of the virus.
Although no authentic information is available regarding the natural reservoir of the Ebola virus, scientists believe that the first patient in an outbreak contracts the virus by touching an animal carrying the infection.
Ebola virus spreads in humans when a person comes in direct contact with the blood and bodily fluids of the infected person such as semen, saliva, urine, vomit and feces. Contact with contaminated medical equipments can also result in the person-to-person transmission of the virus.
Family members of the EVD patients and the paramedic staff that are taking care of them have a higher chance of contracting the infection as they may get exposed to the infected body fluids and blood of the patients.
Transmission of the Ebola virus from one person to another is most likely to happen in a healthcare facility during an Ebola outbreak if the staff members there do not use protective gear to avoid contact with the patients they are treating.
Use of unsterilized medical equipment is another reason for the spreading of the Ebola virus. The syringes and needles used for treating infected patients should either be disposed off or sterilized before use.
Early diagnosis of Ebola virus is extremely difficult. The reason for this is that the initial signs of the disease are similar to many other diseases. For instance, skin rash and red eyes which are among the early indications of this disease can be easily confused with the symptoms of several common ailments.
Still if a patient exhibits the initial signs of the Ebola virus disease and there is even a remote chance that he may have been exposed to the Ebola virus then it is best to keep him in isolation and to report the matter to the health ministry immediately. After this, blood samples should be collected and tested in a laboratory to confirm the presence of the virus in the patient.
The diagnostic tests that should be conducted during the first few days of the appearance of EVD symptoms include Antigen-capture enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), Virus isolation, IgM ELISA and Polymerase chain reaction (PCR).
Tests for IgM and IgG antibodies can be conducted once the disease has subsided and the patient has recovered from his illness.
The diagnostic tests available to check for the infection in deceased patients include, PCR, Virus isolation and testing of the patient’s Immunohistochemistry.
At present there is no clinically proven medicine or vaccine available for treating Ebola virus disease. Treatment is usually administered in response to the symptoms that appear. For instance, providing the patient with fluids intravenously, balancing the electrolyte levels in his body, keeping the blood pressure and oxygen levels normal and dealing with any other infection that might occur can help in saving the life of the patient if they are administered at an early stage.
Providing early treatment to a patient of EVD is particularly difficult since it is extremely hard to diagnose the disease when it is in its early stages. The reason for this is because all the initial symptoms of the disease are similar to many other common diseases, increasing the chances of a misdiagnosis.
There are some experimental treatments available for EVD patients but they have not been cleared for humans.
Prevention of Ebola virus disease is possible if you work towards avoiding direct contact with the virus. Follow these precautions and you will significantly reduce your chances of catching this virus.
Avoid travelling to the countries of Africa where the outbreak of the virus has occurred. You can contact the CDC to learn about the countries you need to avoid.
Wash your hands as frequently as possible. You can either use water and soap for this purpose or hand rubs having 60% alcohol present in them.
Avoid eating the meat of apes or wild animals that are being sold in the markets of developing countries.
Avoid coming in contact with the blood or body fluids of the EVD patients since they can be used for transmitting the disease.
Don’t handle the dead bodies of the people who have died of the Ebola virus as they remain contagious and can still transmit the disease.