The current outbreak in west Africa, (first cases notified in March 2014), is the largest and most complex Ebola outbreak since the Ebola virus was first discovered in 1976. There have been more cases and deaths in this outbreak than all others combined. It has also spread between countries starting in Guinea then spreading across land borders to Sierra Leone and Liberia, by air (1 traveller only) to Nigeria, and by land (1 traveller) to Senegal.
The most severely affected countries, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia have very weak health systems, lacking human and infrastructural resources, having only recently emerged from long periods of conflict and instability. On August 8, the WHO Director-General declared this outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
A separate, unrelated Ebola outbreak began in Boende, Equateur, an isolated part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The virus family Filoviridae includes 3 genera: Cuevavirus, Marburgvirus, and Ebolavirus. There are 5 species that have been identified: Zaire, Bundibugyo, Sudan, Reston and Taï Forest. The first 3, Bundibugyo ebolavirus, Zaire ebolavirus, and Sudan ebolavirus have been associated with large outbreaks in Africa. The virus causing the 2014 west African outbreak belongs to the Zaire species.
How is it transmitted?
- Eating dead animals especially monkeys and bats.
- Direct contact with wounds, body fluids like blood, semen, sweat, saliva and vomitus from an infected person or animal.
- Using skin piercing instruments that have been used by an infected person.
The incubation period or period from infection to onset of symptoms is from 2 to 21 days (most commonly 8 to 10 days). The infected person becomes contagious (or can transmit the disease to another person) once they begin to show symptoms.
- Sudden onset of fever, headache and weakness.
- Muscle pain, skin rash.
- Vomiting, sore throat, abdominal pain and diarhhoea.
- Jaundice, severe weight loss, mental confusion and sometimes bleeding through body openings, i.e, nose, gums, eyes, ears, anus.
Meanwhile, what should those who travelled to, or through West Africa do
Go to a health facility where they should be screened or checked whether they are carrying the Ebola virus or not.
Who is at risk of getting the Ebola Virus?
- People who travelled to, or through the countries in West Africa where the outbreak has been confirmed.
- People who had direct contact with secretions of an infected persons.
- People eating bush meat from animals that died from unknown causes including bats and monkeys.
How can Ebola be prevented?
- Wash hands regularly after contact with other people or animals.
- Avoid direct contact with fluids, blood, saliva, vomitus, urine and stool from an infected person. Use protective materials like gloves, goggles.
- Avoid eating animals that have died from unknown causes, e.g monkeys, antelopes and bats
- Do not use skin piercing instruments that have been used on an infected person.
- Ebola is a serious disease with a high fatality rate.
- It spreads through contact with fluids and secretions from an infected person.
- Practice hand washing with soap and clean water after getting in contact with any suspected person always.
- Ensure proper surveillance of people who have been in contact with a suspected, confirmed or those who died from Ebola Virus Disease immediately.
- An infected person becomes contagious (or can transmit the disease to another person) once they begin to show signs and symptoms.