With all the technology today and the advancement of science in treating infectious diseases, there is still fear among healthcare officials over pandemics. As good as our drug development is, we are still at risk of any disease that can jump from animal to human. One such disease in Africa which is being closely monitored is the Ebola virus.
What is Ebola?
Ebola is a viral illness whose initial symptoms begin with a sudden fever, intense weakness, muscle pain and a sore throat. The next stage includes vomiting, diarrhea and both internal and external bleeding. Ebola is fatal in some cases but does make you feel like you want to die.
It spreads from one person to another by direct contact with infected blood, bodily fluids or organs, or indirectly through contact with contaminated environments. Think of shared towels, dinnerware, etc. Even funerals of Ebola victims can create risk especially if mourners have direct contact with the body of the deceased. There is no cure and no vaccines currently that could treat this disease.
Where Does it Come From?
The disease infects humans through close contact with certain infected animals, including chimpanzees, fruit bats and forest antelope. The incubation period can last from two days to three weeks, and diagnosis is difficult at the moment. The human version of the disease has so far been mostly limited to Africa, although one strain has cropped up in the Philippines. People are infectious as long as their blood and secretions contain the virus – in some cases, up to seven weeks after they recover.
So far, Ebola outbreaks occur primarily in remote villages in Central and West Africa near tropical rainforests. The most frequently affected countries are further east: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Sudan. It is believed that these infections occur after contact with fruit bats, antelope or monkeys. The contact I am referring involves food contamination. As a simplified example, a fruit bat bites a banana which is harvested by a local tribesman who consumes it. That person becomes infected and becomes a carrier.
An recent outbreak began in Nzerekore, Guinea, but has now reached capital Conakry (population: two million). Four people have died in neighboring Liberia. Sierra Leona has reported five suspected cases.. What makes this dangerous is the exposure to a large population and not some remote village. Any infected individual can get on a plane and hit another major urban population within hours.
A new health information campaign is being launched to prevent spreading the Ebola virus. This initiative is to help people understand how to avoid contact with Ebola patients, their bodily fluids, environment and foods. An emphasis is placed on people wearing gloves and protective equipment, such as masks, and wash their hands regularly. They also warn against consuming raw bush meat and having any contact with infected bats or monkeys and apes. Fruit bats in particular are considered a delicacy in the area of Guinea where the outbreak started. The hardest part is trying not to create fear or misinformation which would create chaos and make matters worse.
Will Science find a cure?