Ebola virus disease (EVD) is a contagious, severe, often fatal illness in humans. It is characterized by extreme fever, rash, and profuse haemorrhaging. There are different strains, and the fatality varies depending on the strain. Ebolaviruses get their name from the Ebola River in the northern Congo Basin of Central Africa where they first emerged in 1976. Ebola is considered a zoonotic virus meaning it originated in animals and then spread to humans.
Ebola is transmitted by direct contact with the blood, body fluids, and tissues of infected animals or people. The time from infection to the onset of symptoms ranges from 2-21 days.
Signs and symptoms
- Joint and muscle aches
- Stomach pain
- Lack of appetite
Some patients may experience:
- Red eyes
- Sore throat
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Bleeding inside and outside of the body
Precautions to take
Infection occurs after direct contact with the body fluids of an infected person when you touch your eyes, nose, mouth, or an area of broken skin. If you’re travelling to a place where the Ebola virus may be present, here are ways to protect yourself and prevent the spread of Ebola:
- Avoid contact with blood and body fluids (such as urine, faeces, saliva, sweat, vomit, breast milk, amniotic fluid, semen, and vaginal fluids) of people who are sick.
- Avoid contact with semen from a man who has recovered from Ebola until testing shows that the virus is gone from his semen.
- Avoid contact with items that may have come in contact with an infected person’s blood or body fluids (such as clothes, bedding, needles, and medical equipment).
- Avoid funeral or burial practices that involve touching the body of someone who died from Ebola or suspect EVD.
- Avoid eating bushmeat
Medical professionals prevent transmission by:
- Ensuring all healthcare workers wear protective clothing including gloves, masks, and glasses.
- Implementing infection-control measures such as complete equipment sterilization and routine use of disinfectant
- Washing hands
- Isolation of Ebola patients from contact with unprotected persons
Care providers can prevent transmission by:
- Disinfecting the homes of people who have Ebola using bleach and hospital-type disinfectants
- Isolating people who have Ebola
- Testing and monitoring people who have had contact with someone who has Ebola
Governments can prevent transmission by:
- Setting up robust cross-border surveillance systems when neighbouring countries have positive infections
- Train an army of community contact tracers
- Recruit trusted messengers to combat misinformation, disinformation, and rumours
- Implement rapid field testing so that cases are diagnosed, and people are isolated faster
Management and treatment
Medical experts take lab tests to diagnose Ebola. It may take up to three days for the virus to reach levels that can be detected by the labs.
- Balancing the patient’s fluids and electrolytes
- Maintaining their oxygen status and blood pressure
- Treating a patient for any complicated infections
Long-term effects of Ebola
Survivors of Ebola may have ongoing mental and physical problems.
- Abdominal/stomach pain
- Erectile dysfunction
- Eye problems including blurred vision, dry eyes or eye pain
- Hearing loss
- Muscle or bone pain
- Painful periods
- Memory loss
In 2019, the Food and Drug Administration in the US approved a vaccine for Ebola. It’s a single-dose vaccine that has been found to be safe and protective against Zaire ebolavirus which caused the largest and most deadly Ebola outbreak to date.
Ebola is a rare but severe illness. If you suspect exposure or have symptoms, seek medical care immediately.
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