Ebola 101

Ebola PictureDear readers: With Ebola being on everyone’s radar these days (that being justified or not), let me outline the most important facts you should know about it.

Ebola is a viral illness and one of many Hemorrhagic Fevers (to hemorrhage means to bleed).

This is a severe disease, which begins abruptly and is often fatal and during this current outbreak, its reported fatality is in 55-60% of cases; some recover while others die and the reason for this remains unknown but it is noted that the immune response to the virus remains low at the time of death in individuals who do not recover.

How is Ebola transmitted?

If an Ebola patient is adequately quarantined, there’s no real reason for public to panic – this is not Flu and it’s not spread as easily. Ebola can be contracted in the following ways:

  • Through direct contact with the blood or bodily fluids (blood, vomit, pee, poop, sweat, semen, spit, other fluids) of a person who is sick with Ebola
  • Through direct exposure to objects (such as surgical instruments, needles etc.) that have been contaminated with infected bodily fluids

One important fact to remember is that Ebola can only be spread to others after symptoms begin to show and not before that time!

Symptoms may appear anywhere from 2 to 21 days after exposure to Ebola virus but the usual time frame has been 8-10 days.

The most common combination of symptoms include (but is not limited to):

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Unexplained bleeding
  • Stomach pain
  • Lack of appetite
  • Joint & muscle aches
  • Red eyes
  • Skin rash

If no symptoms appear after 21 days of exposure, a person will not become sick with Ebola and cannot transmit the disease to others.
Note that most of these symptoms are non-specific and may appear with other, more common and less dangerous illnesses making Ebola difficult to recognize, test for and respond to early in the disease (first few days of infection).

Prevention

Prevention of the disease presents a challenge because there’s an increase risk of transmission within the health care facilities, where the patients are being treated and as we’ve seen, doctors and nurses treating Ebola patients are at high risk.

Also, Ebola is easily spread within families and close friends of a patient, due to their direct exposure and physical contact.

Isolation techniques and barrier nursing approach (protective gowns, gloves, eyewear etc.) must be employed to avoid contact with the blood or secretions of an infected patient, as this is the only way to prevent Ebola from spreading.

Treatment

So far the treatment has only been supportive – treating any complications, giving fluids and electrolytes, maintaining blood pressure and oxygenation etc. This treatment gives a patient the best chance to fight off the virus and eventually recover.

Experimental treatments, only tested in animal models have been lately tried out in a few humans with some promising results but the mid term and long-term (side)effects are yet to be seen and the proper trials must be conducted before any conclusions can be definitively drawn.

My hope is that the latest outbreak will subside and remain localized, giving scientist time to evaluate current results and prepare better treatments and public health responses for everyone who may be affected in the future.

Still, illnesses like Tuberculosis or Malaria remain far bigger killers than Ebola can ever hope to become, while receiving far too little public attention (or fad if you will) and not enough funds to fight them.

Yours in health,

Dr. Mo