Africa’s worst outbreak of Ebola has now claimed at least 3400 lives in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.Since the outbreak begun 7500 people have been infected, and the World Health Organisation is warning that present rates of spread suggest 20,000 people will be infected before the outbreak can be contained. So far, survival rates are less then 50 per cent.
A WHO report published early in September reported: “In Monrovia [the capital of Liberia], taxis filled with entire families, of whom some members are thought to be infected with the Ebola virus, crisscross the city, searching for a treatment bed. There are none. As WHO staff in Liberia confirm, no free beds for Ebola treatment exist anywhere in the country.”
America’s NBC news reported that in Liberia’s Montserrado county alone, 1,000 beds are urgently needed but only 240 beds are available.
West African countries and international health authorities at a United Nations-backed emergency summit adopted a strategy covering a range or priorities, including strengthening cross-border collaboration, to combat the world’s deadliest Ebola outbreak, which has killed hundreds of people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.
An emergency meeting convened by the WHO on the outbreak ended in Accra, Ghana, with regional health ministers pledging to strengthen surveillance to detect cases of the virus, and to boost local community engagement to defeat the unprecedented outbreak. But so far, no measures have managed to overcome the spread of the disease among populations scared of admitting someone is showing symptoms, and reluctant to trust authorities attempting to help them.
What is Ebola?
Ebola is a deadly viral disease that is formally known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever. The World Health Organisation has defined Ebola, as “a severe, often fatal illness, with a case fatality rate of up to 90 per cent”. The incubation period, that is, the time interval from infection with the virus to onset of symptoms, ranges from 2 to 21 days.
The disease is marked by “sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat”. It gets worse. The victim is likely to vomit, gets diarrhoea, suffers impaired kidney and liver function, and then, in the worst cases, starts bleeding internally and externally.
The few who recover can remain infectious long after the symptoms disappear, with the virus present in blood and other bodily secretions. Ebola virus was isolated from semen 61 days after the onset of illness in a man who was infected in a laboratory.
Where did it come from?
The virus got its name from the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The first outbreak occurred there in 1976. A second outbreak was reported soon after in a remote area of Sudan.
The present outbreak is confined to West Africa as shown by this map from the US Government organisation Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
An FAQ from WHO says fruit bats are the natural host of the virus. The disease would have been spread to humans through close contact with blood and other fluids from infected animals: “In Africa, infection has occurred through the handling of infected chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines found ill or dead or in the rainforest.”
How does it spread?
Ebola is extremely infectious, spreading easily throughout a community from person to person once the virus takes hold. Infections are transmitted by direct contact with the blood, body fluids and tissue of infected animals and people.
“Infection can also occur if broken skin of a healthy person comes into contact with environments that have become contaminated with an Ebola patient’s infectious fluids such as soiled clothing, bed linen, or used needles.”
People most at risk of contracting the disease are health workers and family members. Health workers are constantly exposed to the virus when treating patients. If they do not wear personal protective equipment when taking care of patients they risk contracting the virus.
Health experts also have to contend with the obstacle of traditional practices. In many of the area where the disease is found, it is common for mourners to touch bodies at funerals which can further spread the disease if the diseased was infected.
The two most common ways the disease spreads are through transmission by relatives caring for victims, and at funerals. – Compiled by Paige Pollard and updated on October 8, 2014