What is Ebola virus disease?
Ebola virus disease is a severe haemorrhagic fever caused by viral infection. The virus causes internal and external bleeding in humans and non-human primates like monkeys, gorillas and so on. The disease was first noticed in 1976 when Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo reported its outbreak. It is named after the Ebola river in DR Congo, which was one of the sites of the one of the sites of the fever’s first reported outbreak. In Africa, fruit bats are seen as possible natural hosts of the virus. It is often reported that primates are the source of infection for humans. They, however, are themselves victims rather than the reservoir of the virus. The illness is extremely fatal as the death rate can go up to 90%. The virus has five distinct species four in Africa and one in Philip pines and China.
What are the symptoms?
The virus has a long incubation period and symptoms appear in approximately eight to 21 days. An infected person is likely to experience sudden onset of fever, weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. These symptoms are followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash and internal and external bleeding. Prolonged haemorrhagic conditions could damage the kidney and liver. Infected per sons become contagious only after they start showing symptoms, not during the incubation period.
How do humans get infected with the virus?
The outbreak starts when a person comes into contact with an infected animal. In most cases, the disease is contracted by handling infected animals or carcasses. An infected person can spread the disease within other members of the community. Any direct contact with bodily fluids of the infected person like blood coming through broken skin and mucus membranes, stool, urine, saliva, semen and so on can cause the infection. Casual disposal of clothing, bed linen, of clothing, bed linen, needles used to cure the infected person could contaminate the environment. In the present outbreak, many people got infected during funerals and burial rituals. Dead people are infectious as long as their blood and secretions contain the virus.
What is the treatment?
There is no vaccine or specific treatment of the infection. Severely ill patients get dehydrated frequently and need intravenous fluids or oral rehydration. It is advised to keep them on intensive care support. Patients should be isolated from others and treated by health workers taking strict precautions. Recently, two health workers from Samaritan’s Purse, a US-based private humanitarian organization, were treated with experimental medicine. The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention on its website states that the product is still in experimental stage and hence is not available for general use. This week, the WHO will convene a panel of medical ethicists to explore the use of experimental treatment in the ongoing outbreak.
An effective vaccine against the Ebola vaccine will not be available before 2015, the World Health Organization said on Saturday.
The World Health Organization said that though there is currently no available cure or vaccine for Ebola, a candidate is being rushed through the trial process to become available by 2015.
British pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline is planning to start clinical trials of the most promising vaccine next month. Marie-Paule Kieny, assistant director-general of the UN health agency said on Saturday, “Since this is an emergency, we can put emergency procedures in place and have a vaccine available by 2015”.
A treatment made by Mapp Biopharmaceutical, ‘Zmapp’ has shown promising results on monkeys and may have been effective in treating two Americans who were recently infected with the deadly virus in Africa.
Kieny will be hosting a WHO meeting on the issue on Monday. Top medical ethicists will be part of this meeting to decide whether an experimental treatment for Ebola can be used on patients.