Ebola Virus Disease: Myths and Facts
The 2014 Ebola virus disease is the largest outbreak of this viral disease to have ever happened from the time the first strain of the virus disease was discovered in 1976. The past outbreaks which occurred 24 times (prior to the current one, 2014) cannot be likened to the recent outbreak in four West African countries (Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria). The last outbreaks resulted to over 2000 infections and less than 900 deaths. The recent one has claimed (as of the first week of September 2014) over 3500 infections and over 2000 deaths.
Due to its nature as one of the deadliest diseases in terms of the rate of infection, the mortality rate, and the symptoms; rumors have been flying on an all time high fueled due to the fear of the disease resulting to myths about the disease. Rumors spread faster than fire, and this article intends to dispel some of those myths and state the facts concerning this virulent disease.
Myth: It is claimed by many Ebola virus disease is spread through air and water.
This is not true as the disease is transmitted from one person to another when an uninfected person comes in close contact with the body fluids of the infected person.
Ebola can be likened to HIV/AIDS and Rabies virus. Both of these infectious diseases are spread when the body fluids of an infected person or animal comes into contact with the mucous membranes (eyes, ears, nose, mouth) of a non-infected person or through an open wound.
In the case of Rabies virus, a person is infected when he/she is bitten by an infected animal indicating the virus is in the saliva or in rare cases when the infected animal licks any of the mucous membranes of a person such as eyes. Also, a person can be infected when an infected animal licks its claws then happens to scratch on the skin of a person.
In the case of HIV/AIDS a person is infected when one is involved in sexual intercourse with an infected person, mother-to-child transmission, transfusion of blood and using contaminated needles. All of these virus diseases are transmitted through blood and body fluids.
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Therefore, it requires a lot of contact to become infected with this viral disease. This explains why the health care workers and those who were taking care of their loves ones in West Africa were the most vulnerable ones to contracting this disease without using protective clothing.
Myth: Another rumor spread is this is the first outbreak of the disease.
This is not true. Prior to 2014 Ebola outbreak, 24 outbreaks had occurred or documented. The reason these diseases did not received international attention was because of the quick responses of both the local and international community in containing the outbreaks.
The current outbreak has gone beyond control infecting a very large number of people and resulting to a large number of deaths. This got the world’s attention.
Myth: The two missionaries who were brought from West Africa to North America will lead to further infection and cause an outbreak of the disease beyond the West African borders.
The missionaries were carried in a very specialized air plane and the health specialists who came in close contact with them wore protective clothing to avoid infection. The care that was taken in treating them was highly specialized ensuring they maintained precautions required in order to avoid infection or spread of the disease.
The reason why the virus disease went out of control in West Africa was these countries – Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone – lacked the proper resources or health facilities to contain the outbreak. Health equipments such as protective clothing (masks, gloves, gowns and eye shields) were lacking or were not adequate including ample amount of clean needles.
When there is good infection control and health infrastructure, then the risk of an outbreak is not possible or is contained in a good responsive time.
Myth: An infected person can become contagious if he/she starts manifesting symptoms of Ebola. The symptoms range from fever, headache, vomiting, diarrhea and so on.
When a person gets infected but one way or another happens to ‘beat’ the Ebola virus disease (doesn’t show the symptoms of Ebola), he/she cannot infect others when they come into close contact with others who are not infected. Only people exhibiting symptoms can infect others.
Ebola Facts and Myths
Myth: Ebola virus disease cannot be treated by antibiotics or onions, condensed milk e.t.c
Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections and not viral infections. There is no cure for Ebola. No vaccine or drug treatment has been approved or licensed including the vaccines which Canada donated to the affected countries and the experimental serum called ZMapp.
The two American missionaries were treated with the experimental drug of which after a few weeks their health improved and were able to walk on their feet. However, it is not known whether the drug played any role, if it ever played a role, in the recovery. It had never been tested in humans or clinical tests done to determine whether the experimental drug worked in humans as was the case in animals.
Myth: The virus disease liquefies the organs of an infected person which results to bleeding from the orifices.
This is untrue. While it is true the symptoms of Ebola can include bleeding from the nose, eyes, ears and mouth; it is not the case of the majority of the infected patients. Only 20% of the infected patients reach at this level of bleeding from the mucous membranes.
Hence, the body’s organs are not liquefied as many of the infected patients die because the virus disease has infected or damaged the internal organs leading to their failure of functioning well. The majority die because of shock as the virus weakens the blood vessels resulting to internal and/or external bleeding.
The virus is also a master in inhibiting proper clotting of blood which helps in stopping the bleeding.
Myth: While Ebola virus disease is spread from an infected person to a non-infected person through blood, it is not the only body fluid the virus disease is spread through.
The virus can also be spread when an infected person comes into contact with other body fluids such as semen, sweat, saliva and discharge (e.g. diarrhea and vomiting).
Myth: Safe sex with an infected person does not mean a non-infected person will not be infected.
In the case of HIV/AIDS a person can be involved in sexual intercourse with an infected person by using condoms in a correct manner without getting infected. This is not the case with Ebola virus disease.
In the case of Ebola virus disease, an infected person is not allowed to be involved in sexual intercourse with a non-infected person. This is because the semen of the infected person contains the Ebola virus. The infected males are advised not to engage in sexual intercourse for 7 weeks, unless they use condoms. Nevertheless, the non-infected person can be infected through other means or sources during sexual intercourse even if he/she is using a condom – kissing and touching.
Myth: Having a healthy or immune system doesn’t mean a person cannot be infected.
The Ebola virus is known at eluding the body’s natural defenses. This viral disease is known to impede the neutrophils (white blood cells) which are responsible for signaling an alarm there is an ‘enemy’ or foreign body so that the immune system can react quickly and appropriately in fighting or attacking it.
In addition, this viral disease infects the immune cells and uses these cells to travel to other parts of the body, thereby infecting internal organs such as kidney and liver.
This disease is also known to copy itself when it invades the body’s cells, then ruptures out of the body’s cells thereby producing a protein called ebolavirus glycoprotein. This protein attaches to the cells (on the inside of the blood vessels). This can lead to shock. Ultimately, it can lead to death.