Ebola virus disease is a serious, usually fatal condition in humans and animals. Ebola is among the several viral hemorrhagic fevers that are caused by infection with a Filoviridae family virus from genus Ebolavirus.
Ebola virus is related to the Marburg virus, and both of them cause hemorrhagic fevers. The hemorrhage fever is associated with severe bleeding, organ failure, and in some instances, death.
Both Ebola and Marburg viruses live in animal hosts, and human beings can contract them from infected animals. After the first transmission, the viruses can spread from one person to another through contact with body fluids and/or contaminated needles.
Ebola remains a deadly disease because there is no single drug approved to treat the virus. Diagnosed individuals are given supportive care and treatment for complications.
The symptoms of Ebola normally start abruptly within five to 10 days of infection with Ebola or Marburg virus. The early symptoms include:
- Severe headache
- Joint and muscle aches
After a certain period, symptoms become increasingly extreme and may include:
- Diarrhea (may be bloody)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Red eyes
- Raised rash
- Sore throat
- Chest pain and cough
- Stomach pain
- Severe weight loss
- Internal bleeding
- Bleeding normally from the eyes and when close to death, bleeding from nose, ears, and rectum
Ebola is caused by viruses in the Ebolavirus and Filoviridae family. Ebola is regarded as a zoonosis, which means that the virus is present in animals and is transmitted to humans.
The way the Ebola virus is transmitted at the onset of an outbreak in humans is still not clear.
In Africa, the majority of people who have previously been diagnosed with Ebola developed it after handling infected animals found ill or dead. The animals include fruit bats, gorillas, forest antelope, monkeys, and porcupines.
Transmission from one person to another occurs after a person infected with the virus becomes symptomatic. This can take between 2 and 21 days for symptoms to develop.
Note that the infected person may have been in contact with hundreds of people before the symptoms develop, and that is why an Ebola outbreak is difficult to manage and may spread widely.
It is very difficult to clinically differentiate Ebola virus from other types of infectious diseases such as typhoid fever, malaria, and meningitis.
The reason is that the majority of the preliminary symptoms of Ebola are the same as those of these diseases. The confirmation that symptoms are caused by EVD are made using the following methods:
- Serum neutralization test
- Antibody-capture enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA)
- Virus isolation by cell culture
- Antigen-capture detection tests
- Electron microscopy
- Reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RP-PCR) assay
During the selection of diagnostic test, it is important to pay attention to technical specifications such as social and medical implications of the test results, disease incidence, and prevalence.
As mentioned earlier, there is no cure for Ebola, but extensive research is still ongoing. In most cases, treatment involves an experimental serum that destroys infected cells. The symptoms of Ebola are managed through:
- Maintaining the patient’s oxygen status
- Balancing patient’s fluids and electrolytes
- Blood pressure medication
- Treatment for other infections
- Blood transfusions
At least two Ebola vaccines have been tested, proven, and endorsed by the World Health Organization. They are:
- cAd3-ZEBOV: The vaccine uses a chimpanzee-derived adenovirus vector with an Ebola virus gene inserted.
- rVSV-ZEBOV: The vaccine uses a weakened virus found in livestock whereby one of its genes has been substituted with an Ebola virus gene.
Since these vaccines proved to be 100% effective during the trial, WHO is planning to make it available to all the countries in the world to protect critical frontline workers and make a difference in the future evolution of Ebola.
Stopping Ebola infection is difficult because it is still not clear how people are infected with the virus. However, preventive measures of the transmission include:
- Ensuring all healthcare workers wear protective clothing
- Isolation of Ebola patients from contact with unprotected persons
- Implementing infection-control measures such as routine use of disinfectant and complete equipment sterilization
- Avoid bush meat
- Follow infection-control procedures
- Avoid areas of known outbreaks
- Avoid contact with infected or likely infected people
- Do not handle the remains of people who have died of Ebola or Marburg disease. Involve the government to provide specially organized and trained teams to bury the remains using suitable safety equipment.
For more information on diagnosis and/or treatment, speak to a doctor, or get access to a hospital near you through the Uzima Health App.