Ebola virus disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever is a severe, often fatal illness in humans.
Ebola first appeared in 1976 in 2 simultaneous outbreaks, in Nzara, Sudan, and in Yambuku, Democratic Republic of Congo. The latter was in a village situated near the Ebola River, from which the disease takes its name.
Symptoms start two days to three weeks after contracting the virus, with a fever, sore throat, muscle pain and headaches. Typically, vomiting, diarrhea and rash follow, along with decreased functioning of the liver and kidneys. Around this time, affected people may begin to bleed both within the body and externally.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), EVD outbreaks have a case fatality rate of up to 90% and occur primarily in remote villages in Central and West Africa, near tropical rainforests.
Ebola is one of the world’s most deadly viruses but is not airborne, so cannot be caught like flu, the virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission.
Fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family are considered to be the natural host of the Ebola virus.
Severely ill patients require intensive supportive care. No licensed specific treatment or vaccine is available for use in people or animals.
Doctors say avoiding the Ebola virus should be quite easy if you follow these top tips:
Wash your hands regularly with soap and clean water – and use clean towels to dry them. This can be difficult in slum and rural areas where there is not always direct access to clean water – but it is an effective way to kill the virus. Ordinary soap is all that’s needed. Shaking hands should also generally be avoided, because Ebola spreads quickly when people come into contact with an infected person’s body fluids and symptoms take can take a while to show. Other forms of greeting are being encouraged.
No touching – if you suspect someone of having Ebola, do not touch them. This may seem cruel when you see a loved one in pain and you want to hug and nurse them, but body fluids – urine and stools, vomit, blood, nasal mucus, saliva, tears etc. – can all pass on the virus. An infected person’s symptoms include fever, muscle and joint pain, sore throat, headache and fatigue – followed by nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, which may include blood. Encourage them to seek help from a medical professional or health centre as soon as possible. It is also advisable not to touch the clothes or bedclothes of Ebola patients. Medecins Sans Frontieres advises that such sheets and even mattresses be burnt.
Avoid dead bodies – if you think someone has died from Ebola, do not touch their body, even as part of a burial ceremony. When someone has died, you can still catch Ebola from their body as it ejects fluids that make it even more contagious than that of a sick person. Organize for a specialized team to deal with the body as quickly as possible as it is risky to leave a dead body for any length of time in a cramped living area.
Avoid bushmeat – hunting, touching and eating bushmeat such as bats, monkeys and chimpanzees, as scientists believe this is how the virus was first transmitted to humans. Even if a certain wild animal is a delicacy in your region, avoid it as its meat or blood may be contaminated. Make sure all food is cooked properly.
Don’t panic – spreading rumors increases fear. Do not be scared of health workers – they are there to help and a clinic is the best place for a person to recover – they will be rehydrated and receive pain relief. About half of the people infected in the current outbreak have died. There have been cases of medics being attacked and people being abandoned when they are suspected of having Ebola – even when they are suffering from something else. A belief in irrational traditional remedies has also exacerbated the spread of the virus.
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