Straight, No Chaser: Ebola Virus
Ebola virus has been in the news quite a bit lately. The disease it causes illustrates the ongoing value of basic measures of prevention and the difference in implementing strategies of prevention in the United States compared with some other countries (and to be fair, the luck of not having the same population of fruit bats that carry the disease). The disease caused by Ebola virus is called hemorrhagic fever. It’s a disease that occurs in humans and primates such as monkeys and gorillas, and it’s fatal up to 90% of the time. Straight, No Chaser has previously discussed the unlikelihood that the Ebola epidemic will spread beyond its current locations. In this post, we review some basic facts about the virus and the disease.
How do I catch the Ebola virus?
There are two main ways in which Ebola virus is spread to and between humans:
- From infected animals and animal materials
- By close contact with infected body fluids or through infected needles
Is the Ebola virus everywhere?
The human disease caused by the virus has been limited to parts of Africa. However, one of the types of the virus (there are five) has been found in the Philippines. The reason for this can be found in the geographic distribution of the virus’ natural host, the fruit bat.
What are the symptoms of Ebola virus?
- During the incubation period (when the virus goes from simply being present to being present in high enough levels to cause significant disease), symptoms can include arthritis, chills, diarrhea, fatigue, fever, headache, low back pain, malaise, nausea, sore throat and vomiting. This period can last between 1-2 weeks after initial infection.
- Later symptoms include bleeding from the ears, eyes and nose, bleeding from the mouth and rectum, eye swelling, genital swelling, increased feeling of pain in the skin, rash over the entire body that often contains blood and redness of the roof of the mouth.
- Severe symptoms may include coma, a disruption of the clotting system known as disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), and shock.
- There is neither a known cure for nor a vaccine effective against an Ebola virus infection.
- Treatment is limited to hospitalization and supportive measures while in intensive care, such as intravenous (IV) fluids and medications.
- Bleeding problems resulting from the disease and the DIC that may develop can require transfusions of blood and platelets.
Ebola virus has a death rate as high as 90%. The cause of death is usually low blood pressure (shock). Blood loss worsens the shock but usually isn’t bad enough to cause death by itself.
Are there long-term complications in survivors?
Survivors may have unusual findings such as hair loss and sensory changes.
When should I be suspicious of having or having been exposed to Ebola virus?
If you have traveled to Africa, and you develop any of the symptoms described above or develop any illness, it’s worth getting evaluated. Keep in mind the disease have a 90% mortality rate, so early diagnosis and treatment give patients the only real chance at survival.
How do I prevent catching the Ebola virus?
I want to present this as simply as possible, because based on what we know, prevention is rather simple and appropriate measures dramatically reduce the risk of transmission.
- For starters, avoid traveling to areas in which there are epidemics.
- If you are in such an area, measures must be taken to reduce the risk of wildlife-to-human transmission. Contact with infected fruit bats or monkeys/apes and the consumption of their raw meat must be avoided. Animals should be handled with gloves and other appropriate protective clothing. Animal products (blood and meat) should be thoroughly cooked before consumption.
- Beyond that, standard precautions are recommended and effective in the care of all patients regardless of their perceived or confirmed infectious status. These precautions include the basic level of infection control—hand hygiene, use of personal protective equipment to avoid direct contact with blood and body fluids, prevention of needle stick and injuries from other sharp instruments, and employing environmental controls.
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