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Ebola Virus: Everything you should know

The Ebola virus causes a severe viral infection known as the Ebola virus disease (EVD) or the Ebola haemorrhagic fever. According to WHO, the infection has a high fatality rate of 90 per cent in humans. All reported outbreaks of Ebola virus have occurred in Central and West African villages located near tropical forests. The virus was first discovered near the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976. Outbreaks have been reported sporadically in West Africa since then. The 2014 Ebola outbreak is taking place in the West African countries of Liberia, Guinea, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. As of now, no Ebola case or death has been reported outside Africa, but all countries are screening passengers flying out of the red zones for any signs of infection.

How does the infection spread?

The Ebola virus is transmitted to humans from wild animals, and can spread between humans through direct or indirect contact with body fluids or blood. The natural host of the virus is believed to be fruits bats (Pteropodidae family).

How to identify EVD?

Symptoms of infection include:

  • • Sudden fever
  • • Muscle pain and weakness
  • • Sore throat
  • • Headache
  • • Diarrhoea, vomiting
  • • Rash

Kidney and liver functioning impaired Symptoms may appear within two to 21 days post infection, and the patient remains infectious as long as the virus is in the system. Laboratory tests that can detect infection are antigen detection tests, electron microscopy, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) assay, serum neutralisation, and cell culture to isolate virus.

Is an Ebola virus infection treatable?

Currently, no vaccine exists to be given to humans or animals. Research is on-going but no vaccine is ready for clinical administration yet. Patients are given intensive care; oral rehydration with intravenous fluids and electrolytes is important.

Who’s at risk?

All human infections of Ebola virus have occurred in Africa so far. People at highest risk are healthcare workers (spread can occur if adequate containment control is not exercised during treatment) and friends and family of infected patients. Ebola virus cannot be transmitted through air, food or water. Infection only spreads through direct contact with an infected person who exhibits the symptoms. Note: A non-symptomatic person is not contagious.

How to stay safe

Active screening measures are being taken in West Africa to ensure that no Ebola infected person boards an airplane out of that country. Outbound travellers at airports in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are also required to fill a health questionnaire. For anyone travelling to a country within the Ebola outbreak area, it is important to take care of the following: • Practice safe hygiene • Avoid items that could have been in contact with blood or body fluids from an infected person • Avoid all contact with animals and raw meat • Avoid visiting hospitals that are treating Ebola patients • Monitor own health for 21 days after leaving Africa. Seek immediate medical help in case of any Ebola symptoms.

Sources: “Ebola virus disease,” WHO.int, World Health Organization, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs103/en/ “No Ebola case in India, no need for panic: Harsh Vardhan,” IndianExpress.com, August 8, 2014, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/no-ebola-case-in-india-no-need-for-panic-harsh-vardhan/ “2014 Ebola Outbreak in West Africa,” CDC.gov, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/outbreaks/guinea/

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