The deadly Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever continues to rage in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and within a few days has spread to nearly 6 other West African countries. And the disturbing news continues with the recent report that two Americans have been infected with the virus-which has a 90% mortality rate-and has claimed the life of the head doctor treating patients with Ebola in Sierra Leone, virologist Sheik Umar Khan.
Because of the deadly nature of the disease, it is important to understand how Ebola is contracted, signs and symptoms of the virus, effective prevention, and finally, treatment.
How is the virus contracted?
The disease can be contracted if a person comes into contact with a contaminated object, the blood or body fluids of an animal or person infected, or even by butchering an animal infected with the virus.
Many of those who suffer from Ebola contracted it when caring for or burying a person who has had the disease, or touching contaminated needles or surfaces.
According to CNN, a deceased person with Ebola can still transmit the virus. Fruit bats are suspected to be a natural host of the Ebola virus, which are a popular food source throughout West Africa.
Signs and Symptoms of Ebola
According to the World Health Organization, symptoms of the Ebola virus show up 2 to 21 days after someone is infected. As the virus spreads through the body's cells, it damages the immune system and organs. Ultimately, Ebola causes levels of blood-clotting cells, called platelets, to fall, which can lead to severe bleeding out of the victim's nose and mouth. Early symptoms include: fever, headache, muscle aches, sore throat, weakness, and diarrhea. Later symptoms include bleeding, rash, and trouble breathing. People are infectious as long as their blood and secretions contain the virus.
According to the Center for Disease Control, there are several ways to prevent contracting the virus.
1. Avoid areas of known outbreaks.
2. People should wash their hands frequently using soap and water, or use alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60 percent alcohol. Healthcare workers should wear protective clothing such as gloves, masks, gowns, and eye shields.
3. Avoid eating or touching bush meat or any wild animals sold in local markets if visiting a developing country.
4. Avoid contact with infected people. In particular, caregivers should avoid contact with the person's body fluids and tissues, including blood, semen, vaginal secretions and saliva. People with Ebola or Marburg are most contagious in the later stages of the disease.
5. Don't handle the still-contagious remains of those have died of Ebola. Specially organized and trained teams should bury the remains, using appropriate safety equipment.
Timely treatment is crucial; however, early signs of Ebola are often hard to catch, as symptoms such as headache and fever are nonspecific to ebolaviruses
Because there is no known cure for Ebola, standard treatment for the disease is still limited to supportive therapy. Such treatment includes balancing the patient's fluids and electrolytes, maintaining their oxygen status and blood pressure, and treating them for any complicating infections.
While there are currently no treatments or vaccines against Ebola available for clinical use, there are some being tested.