Now that Ebola is creeping closer and closer to our shores, I am scared. What is the outbreak like around the world now?
At the time of writing, the Ebola virus has infected more than 5,300 people in West Africa since early this year. More than 2,600 people have died from it.
It apparently shows no signs of slowing down, and more than 700 new cases have been reported last week alone.
The worst affected countries are Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone has already gone into “shutdown”, meaning its six million population must stay home, except for volunteers who have to disseminate information and supplies.
This Ebola outbreak is the deadliest outbreak to date.
Previous Ebola outbreaks have occurred in remote villages near wildlife in Africa. But now, the Ebola virus has spread to towns and large urban areas.
Worse yet, it has spread to other countries through air travel.
What is Ebola?
Ebola is a viral disease, and it is now officially known as Ebola virus disease (EVD). It was formerly called Ebola haemorrhagic fever.
The Ebola virus is transmitted to humans from wild animals. Thereafter, it can be transmitted from humans to humans.
If you get Ebola, there is an average 50% chance that you will die. So, it is an extremely fatal disease.
The Ebola virus comes from the virus family Filoviridae, which consists of Cuevavirus, Marburgvirus and Ebolavirus.
There are five species of Ebolavirus – Zaire, Bundibugyo, Sudan, Reston and Tai Forest. The Zaire is the one which is currently associated with the massive outbreaks in Africa.
When was Ebola first discovered?
Ebola first appeared in 1976 with two simultaneous outbreaks. One was in Sudan and the other in Congo. Ebola takes its name from the Ebola River of Congo, where the disease was first discovered.
How is Ebola transmitted? Through air?
The hypothesis is that fruit bats are the natural hosts of the Ebola virus.
Ebola can be spread to humans through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other body fluids of infected animals such as bats, chimpanzees and monkeys, especially if they are found ill or dead in the forest.
Ebola then spreads from human to human through direct contact via broken skin or mucous membranes, and also through blood, secretions and body fluids.
It can also be spread through sharing clothes and bedding which have been contaminated with these fluids.
This is why healthcare workers, priests and volunteers nursing or tending to sick Ebola patients frequently get the disease themselves, especially when they do not practise strict infection control methods.
Even those who die from Ebola can transmit the disease. Burial ceremonies in Africa in which mourners can touch the body of the dead can also spread Ebola.
Even when you have recovered from Ebola, you can still transmit it as long as the virus is still in your bodily fluids, like breast milk or semen.
In fact, men who have recovered from Ebola still have the virus in their semen for up to seven weeks.
I have been in contact with an African traveller on a plane recently. He looked sick. I am very frightened. How can I tell if I have Ebola?
The incubation period after contact with a suspected Ebola patient ranges from two to 21 days. You will not be infectious until you get symptoms.
Look out for a sudden onset of fever and fatigue, muscle aches, headache and sore throat. This is akin to other viral illnesses, though Ebola symptoms can be quite severe.
Then this is followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rashes, and sometimes, internal and external bleeding. You can bleed from your gums and nose, and you can cough out blood or see blood in your stools.
Is there any treatment?
There is as yet no proven treatment for Ebola other than supportive care. But two potential vaccines are now in trials. Also, people have tried using the blood of recovered Ebola patients for the antibodies to be injected into the current Ebola sufferers.
How can I prevent spread?
Avoid contact with people who have Ebola symptoms. If you are a healthcare worker or volunteer, you should make sure that you use gloves and protective equipment.
Do not consume wild animals, and you should handle sick animals with gloves and protective gear.
> Dr YLM graduated as a medical doctor, and has been writing for many years on various subjects such as medicine, health, computers and entertainment. For further information, e-mail email@example.com. The information contained in this column is for general educational purposes only. Neither The Star nor the author gives any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to such information. The Star and the author disclaim all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.