Thursday, December 11, 2008

What is Ebola?

Origins. Ebola haemorrhagic fever (EHF) is a deadly virus originating in parts of Africa. This disease can be found in humans and non-human primates (monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees), and has appeared sporadically since its initial recognition in 1976. The disease is caused by infection with Ebola virus, named after a river in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) in Africa, where it was first recognised.

The Ebola virus comprises four distinct subtypes: Zaire, Sudan, Cote d'Ivoire and Reston. Three subtypes, occurring in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and the Ivory Coast, have been identified as causing illness in humans. EHF is a febrile haemorrhagic illness which causes death in between 50 and 90 percent of all cases.

Symptoms. Ebola is often characterised by the sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. This is often followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function and, in some cases, both internal and external bleeding. The fever has an incubation period of two to 21 days. No specific treatment or vaccine is yet available. However, different from popular misconception, Ebola does not kill within a matter of hours, and the virus will incubate for up to two weeks before symptoms begin to occur.

Transmission. The Ebola virus is transmitted by direct contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people. Burial ceremonies where mourners have direct contact with the body of the deceased person can play a significant role in the transmission of Ebola. Lack of access to proper sterilization and protective garments make nurses and doctors easy target while treating Ebola patients.

Treatment. By ingesting extract from a West African fruit, it was reported can help treat Ebola once it has been contracted; however, these have to be verified medically. Development of Ebola vaccine is still going on, and recently successful when applied to monkeys. There’s not yet human vaccine yields positive results. However, there are some improvements in the remedial treatment so far.

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