Ebola: Get the Facts Avoid the Superstition
Be Realistic about Ebola
Ebola is just a disease, a terrifying disease, but a disease all the same. Forget those who pontificate about Armageddon and the like. This is a disease and the only way we are going to manage it, is by being knowledgeable, not scared. We certainly aren’t going to manage it by merely confessing our sins or turning to Christ, that helps, but we have to be practical as well. CNNs Elizabeth Cohen and Jen Christensen report that Reverent Peter King of Kataka, Liberia is practical about the whole thing, he is not afraid of death, but he doesn’t want to die of Ebola, he quips. He is helping his congregation by doing away with the ritual handshakes and sharing of the same chalice to take communion wine. Practices such as hugging were once common in the Church, but now he will have none of that. After the service, everyone washes their hands using a bleach placed outside the door of the Church. He knows what he is doing; many members of the congregation have already died of the disease. His congregation was naturally reluctant to take kindly to the affront on their long established cultural practices, but with the deaths, none of them minds anymore. Above all, the reverend is making the best of a bad situation, and his efforts are helping his congregation.
Exactly what we should be doing, no matter how far from Liberia or the other affected neighboring countries we are. However, just like the reverend, we should proceed with caution and knowledge. It is important to understand what the disease is, how it spreads, and how it can be prevented. In this article I supply you with as much information as I could gather, and challenge you to find out more.
What is Ebola?
According to the World Health Organization [WHO] the Ebola Virus Disease [EVD], Ebola in short, is a severe viral illness that often results in fatality in humans and other primates. The disease is caused by a cluster of about 5 viruses known as the genus Ebolavirus. Only 4 of these are known to cause different strains of the ailment. The virus cluster of 4 is the Bundibugyo Virus [BDBV], the Sudan virus [SUDV], the Tai Forest Virus [TFV] and the Ebola Virus [EBOV]. The latter causes the most severe infection and was priorly known as the Zaire Ebola Virus due to its initial origins in 1974 in the Congo Forest of present day Democratic Republic of Congo, then known as Zaire. The fifth, Reston Virus [RESTV] is not harmful to humans.
The virus is transmitted from animals to humans through contact with the blood or bodily fluids of the infected animal. Among the animals that are carriers of the disease are Fruit Bats which are themselves not affected by it. These bats transfer the viruses to other animals through various means. For instance, leaving their saliva on half eaten fruits which drop to the forest floor and are eaten by monkeys and other primates. Some animals are also known to eat the bats thus getting infected. Contact, between animals and humans then result in transmission to the latter. Such contact comes in the form of eating poorly cooked meat, handling meat of a slaughtered animal and handling infected pets.
The saving grace is that the only known method through which the virus is transmitted is contact of bodily fluids. Fears that the virus may reach others by air have not been proven to be true. However, it is important to note that the virus remains active in the body even when the victim has died. Proper care must be taken in handling the remains of victims who have succumbed to the disease. It is believed that rituals involving physical handling of dead bodies during funerals in places like Guinea have contributed to the current spread of the virus. Another fact is that men who survive the virus, yes there are those who do, still have the active virus in their semen for three months and can thus infect women they have sexual intercourse with during that period.
The transfer through bodily fluids is responsible for the current spread of the disease in West Africa covering the countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria. This outbreak is classified as the worst since the disease first appeared on the world scene in 1974. There are 3,069 cases reported by 26th August 2014, resulting in 1,552 deaths, slightly over 50% fatality rate, in the current outbreak.
Ebola Signs and Symptoms
Once viruses enter a human body, they have an incubation period of 8-10 days though this can vary depending on the immunity of the person affected. After that the first signs begin to become manifest. The early signs are quite similar to those of other tropical diseases such as influenza and malaria. One experiences fever, headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, muscle aches and joint pains. There are also skin rashes and chest pains. In certain cases sore throats also occur. The disease may then develop to the severe stage where internal organs are affected and the natural clotting process of blood is disabled. This is followed by the worst manifestation of the disease in the form of a hemorrhagic fever. This is where the patient exhibits bleeding from different body apertures including puncture points, gastrointestinal tract, nostrils, gums and vagina. Though this kind of bleeding is the most well known form of the disease, it only happens in 40-50% of the cases.
Prevention and Management of the Virus Spread
The bad news is that there is still no known cure for Ebola. There is however a vaccine that is still being developed. Before that happens, victims of the infection are supported through injection of intravenous fluids and oral rehydration salts to replace the liquids lost through diarrhea, vomiting or bleeding. Those who survive the infection do so due to the internal recovery of their immune systems. Others of course do not survive and they usually die within an average of 9 days after showing the early symptoms.
It is important to take care of persons affected by Ebola. This, where possible, should be done by qualified medical personnel. They are trained to take necessary precautions to avoid getting infected. However, even an ordinary person can take care of an infected person provided that they wear protective clothing and gloves, to avoid contact with the sick person’s body fluids including blood, sweat, vomit and saliva. It is not clear whether those who contract the disease and recover develop immunity to future infections. This happens in the case of certain infections, but the flu keeps coming back, doesn’t it.
Another method of control, which is currently being carried out in West Africa, is the quarantine of people in high infection areas. This is carried out by cutting out travel from and into those areas. The aim is to ensure that the spread of the virus to other places is curtailed.
The Current Situation in West Africa
Those residents living in the quarantined areas are facing very serious problems. They cannot go on with their work as usual and most are thus unable to continue earning a living. There are frequent shortages of food and protective clothing too. Though various donors have emerged who provide support needed for the quarantined people, it is still not enough. In fact, one way in which you and I can help is to donate cash or other items through volunteer organizations such as Medecins Sans Frointieres or the Red Cross who are on the ground taking care of the victims. It is important to note that these people’s lives have been disrupted to keep you and I safe. Personally, I am making my donation, how about you?