|Posted on December 27, 2014 at 9:10 AM|
Written by Harry Barnes
I’m sure most of you have heard of the Ebola virus, or at least the epidemic in West Africa. There have been few cases outside of Africa in the outbreak, but this doesn’t mean we should ignore it! It is a fatal illness if procedure isn’t followed, the current outburst have a fatality rate of approximately 70%. There is presently no licensed vaccine, but campaigners and health organisations are providing support and treatment for victims and are attempting to raise awareness of the virus in an attempt to control it.
Transmission of Ebola
The Ebola virus is thought to be naturally carried by fruit bats. It can then spread to other animals and eventually into humans, by the contact or consumption of infected animals. The virus can then quickly infect other humans by direct contact of an infected person, via broken skin or by body fluids. This also means surfaces and bedding could carry the virus, if bodily fluids made contact with them. As a result of this, many staff treating victims of Ebola often become infected themselves, due to the large number of contaminated objects or when handling patients covered in infected fluids.
There are several symptoms the Ebola virus causes. A recently infected human may feel pains in the head or muscles and could have a fever. Over time, the symptoms become more severe, often resulting in vomiting, diarrhoea and both internal and external bleeding. So watch out!
Treatment of Ebola
As mentioned there is currently no licensed vaccine for Ebola. However, there are potential vaccines at this time under testing and trials. Despite this, there is treatment available to reduce the risk of a fatality. The general maintenance of blood pressure and oxygen levels and the removal of any infections or other risks, such as dehydration, to the patients, are very important when fighting Ebola. In other words, the existing aim of medical personnel is to keep the patient’s condition as stable as possible whilst they are infected. The most important thing is to diagnose the Ebola virus early, so that the doctors can intervene, and isolate anyone infected, before they pass the virus on to others.
It is often quite difficult to diagnose someone with Ebola in the early stages of infection. This is because the virus can’t be seen in the bloodstream of patients until the first symptoms show and early symptoms could be confused with something else. It is worth noting that the incubation period of the illness can take up to 2 weeks.
The Present Situation
Some people forget that this is not the first time Ebola has been seen. There have been a variety of outbreaks and cases recorded since 1976, seen mostly in Africa, although, the present has been the largest eruption so far. Despite it being around for so long, there is a lot we don't know about the virus. This is partly due to the fact that between occurrences, there is almost no presence of Ebola among the human population. There is often a number of people who get infected and die or survive the disease before it can be passed on further because all previous outbreaks have occurred in remote areas, so the chance of further transmission was low. Therefore, officials have always believed the virus can be contained, so until now it hasn’t been considered an international threat. Perhaps this is why we have no current cure for the virus, as it has been seen as a low priority…until now. There are many more people carrying the Ebola virus and it is becoming difficult to contain due to people becoming infected faster than they are being sent into quarantine. This is why the recent outbreak is occurring on a much larger scale than before because it is occurring in a much more occupied area, with migration spreading the virus far and wide like never before. A positive feedback effect is stirring, since the more people who become infected, the faster the infection spreads, so it is feared Ebola could become a runaway threat.
However, don’t panic! There is a very low risk of a person becoming infected with Ebola here in the UK. Governments across the planet are sending out experts to West Africa and are doing everything possible to control the outbreak. There are occasional cases of people who were infected whilst volunteering in West Africa and were diagnosed when they reached their home country, and quickly quarantined. Recently, awareness has been raised and airport staff are being trained to spot Ebola symptoms, before they enter the country. On top of this there are isolation areas on standby in case an Ebola case emerges. Despite the low risk of infection here, it is important to remember that this is an internationally recognised problem, and unfortunately many are suffering as a result of this virus. So it is important that awareness is raised amongst other members of the public to fight back against Ebola.
The image used is a work of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, part of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, taken or made as part of an employee's official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.