ebola 2

Since the first incidence of Ebola was reported in March of this year, the disease has spread across parts of West Africa and claimed 1350 lives, leading the World Health Organisation (WHO) to declare an international health emergency on 8th August. Whilst outbreaks of the virus are extremely rare, there is currently no approved vaccine or treatment and Ebola can prove fatal in up to 90% of cases. As such, the recent outbreak has caused seriously concern and attracted media attention across the world, with alarmist headlines leading many of the major newspapers. But, whilst the unbelievable tragedy of the West African outbreak is irrefutable, the media frenzy that surrounds it has created a culture of perceived risk worldwide. To bring some perspective to the issue we face, since the first report of Ebola infection in March over 300,000 people have died from Malaria.

In this post, which will be regularly updated, we aim to answer the most frequently asked questions about the Ebola outbreak.

What is Ebola?

Ebola Virus Disease is a disease caused by one of five different representatives of the Ebolavirus genus; four of which have been proven to cause severe illness in both animals and humans. Discovered in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Ebola virus is a severe infectious disease that can prove fatal in up to 90% of cases. Since its discovery, outbreaks have been sporadic and have been concentrated in the remote regions of Central and West Africa. It is likely, although not verified, that the virus is zoonotic and that the natural host of the virus is fruit bats.

What are the symptoms?

Ebola is a severe and acute viral illness that first presents with the sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, sore throat, headache and muscle pain. Vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, impaired organ function and, in the worst cases, internal and external haemorrhaging follow.

The incubation period of the virus can be between 2-21 days and it is only infectious once the patient has begun presenting with symptoms. In this way, it is aid workers and family members who care for the sick that are most likely to catch the disease.

How is Ebola transmitted?

The Ebola virus is introduced into the human population through close contact with the bodily fluids of infected animals. The virus then spreads through the human population via direct contact with the blood, secretions or other bodily fluids of infected people. Unlike more common viruses, such as the common cold, Ebola is not an airborne virus. Patients of the Ebola virus remain infectious as long as the virus remains in their bloodstream.

The current outbreak of Ebola is now the largest and most deadly since its discovery but while new cases will continue to emerge, due to the nature of Ebola transmission a worldwide or even European pandemic is currently unlikely. One of the reasons it has had the opportunity to spread so virulently in West Africa is due to various sociocultural factors that are not applicable outside of the currently affected regions.

How is Ebola diagnosed?

Samples of the Ebola virus are an extreme biohazard risk and must be tested in a secure and certified laboratory. A definitive diagnosis of Ebola can be gained through a number of tests including electron microscopy, serum neutralisation tests and antigen detection tests.

How is Ebola treated?

Ebola can neither be vaccinated against nor cured with a specific course of treatment – the best hope for patients being supportive medical care.

However, due to the severity of the outbreak the WHO is considering the widespread use of experimental drugs for infected patients in West Africa. Currently, two American aid workers and three African doctors have received doses of the experimental biopharmaceutical drug ZMapp. All recipients have been making good progress since administration and the American’s have now been released from hospital in good health. However the manufacturer, Mapp Biopharmaceuticals, has announced that the available supply of the drug has now been exhausted having only entered animal trials a few months prior to the outbreak.

How can Ebola be prevented?

Until a vaccine for the virus is found communities in Africa and visitors to the region must exercise extreme caution and employ a number of preventative measures to limit the spread of the disease:

➢ Close physical contact with infected patients must be avoided, unless protective clothing is worn.
➢ Hands must be washed regularly with soap and warm water.
➢ The quick and safe burial of the infected is vital, as patients remain infectious after their death.
➢ Local communities must be educated about the nature, cause and spread of the disease.
➢ Protective clothing must be worn when handling animals and all animal products, such as blood and meat, must be thoroughly cooked before human consumption.
➢ Fruit and vegetables must be washed and peeled before eating them.

What countries are currently affected?

Currently, the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria are affected by the outbreak. However, infected patients have been treated in isolation in Spain and America.

What is the current spread of the disease as of 22nd August?

Guinea: 579 cases, 396 deaths
Liberia: 972 cases, 576 deaths
Nigeria: 15 cases, 4 deaths
Sierra Leone: 907 cases, 374 deaths
Total: 2473 cases, 1350 deaths

Which borders are affected by the outbreak?

Although all border crossings and international airports have heightened alert systems in place to deal with potentially infected passengers travelling from the affected region only the Kenyan and South African authorities have closed their borders to travellers from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. All countries affected by the Ebola outbreak have been asked by the WHO to introduce strict exit screenings at all international airports, seaports and major land crossings.

Which airlines are not flying to the affected regions?

Although the WHO has advised that no bans are imposed on international trade and travel, the following airlines have halted flights to and from the regions:

➢ Kenyan Airways has halted flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone
➢ British Airways, Emirates, Arik Air and ASKY Airlines has suspended flights to Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia
➢ Officials in Cameroon have announced they will suspend all flights from the Ebola affected countries.
➢ Korean Air has temporarily halted services to and from Kenya

Current Risk Assessment:

Currently, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office class the risk to UK Nationals and risk of importation as very low. An outbreak of the virus in a non-endemic country is exceptionally rare and has never happened within Europe. However, it must be noted that an outbreak of this size has never occurred.

While the risk for UK humanitarian workers may be slightly higher, tourists, visitors and expatriate residents of affected areas face a low risk of infection as long as basic precautionary measures are demonstrated.

What are the best sources for up-to-date information?

WHO: http://www.who.int/csr/disease/ebola/en/

Foreign and Commonwealth Office: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/ebola-virus-disease-risk-assessment-of-outbreak-in-west-africa

Centre for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/

Public Health England: http://www.hpa.org.uk/Topics/InfectiousDiseases/InfectionsAZ/Ebola/

NHS: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/ebola-virus/Pages/Ebola-virus.aspx

Read more: CDC Is Constantly Repeating Ebola Facts