While we usually prefer to focus on cultivating a healthy lifestyle here at MHLC, sometimes it helps to know what illnesses are out there to be able to protect ourselves. The best health care is prevention, after all. A relatively recently identified disease that has been making headlines all over the world is Ebola. There is a lot of hype and fear about this illness, and while it is dangerous, knowing what it actually is and how it spreads may give you peace of mind and clarity about how to respond to its presence in the world.
About Ebola Virus Disease
Ebola virus disease (EVD) is a severe infectious disease. It was first discovered in 1976 in two rural villages in Africa – one in Nzara, Sudan, and one in Yambuka, Democratic Republic of Congo, near the Ebola River from which the disease’s name is taken.
Ebola virus disease is a hemorrhagic fever virus, it breaks the cell walls of blood vessels and causes them to leak fluid into surrounding tissues. EVD is fatal in an average of 50 percent of cases. Originally only found in remote rural areas with limited access to modern medical practices, the current outbreak (2014) has taken over 4,000 lives to date in Western Africa.
How Does Ebola Spread Among People?
Ebola can only be spread through direct contact between the bodily fluids of an infected person and the mouth, eyes, or skin lesions of a new host. Most spreading has been caused by a lack of awareness of the nature of the disease (or the cause of death), burial practices, and inadequate sanitation procedures. It is not airborne.
Ebola remains alive and can be contracted from the bodily fluids of human bodies for several days after death, as well as from the fluids of living or dead animals infected with the disease. It can be absorbed through even the tiniest cut in the skin, so it is crucial that you not have any physical contact with a diseased person. But as long as you do not touch a diseased person or body, or get any of their body fluids on you, then you are safe from it.
Ebola is caused by contracting the disease from an infected person, through direct contact with the blood or body fluids (mucous, vomit, milk, semen, or urine) of a living or deceased human or animal infected with the disease.
At first EVD symptoms are very similar to other infectious diseases including malaria and meningitis, which makes it challenging to diagnose. Early symptoms include fever, muscle pain, fatigue, sore throat, and headache. Within a few days symptoms worsen to vomiting, diarrhea, rashes, and signs of internal bleeding.
How Do I Protect Myself Against Ebola?
Basic safety precautions can keep you safe from Ebola. If you are travelling in West Africa or an international airport, do not touch anyone or anything. Wash your hands frequently with soap, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Avoid touching surfaces that may have been touched by an infected person.
Do not touch dead animal bodies or eat raw wild meat. If at all possible, avoid travelling to Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria until the outbreak is completely under control and/or an effective treatment and vaccine have been developed.
What Should I Do if I Think I’m Infected?
If you have traveled to an area of the world where Ebola is present, or came into contact with a potentially infected person, pay careful attention to how you feel. Go to a medical center immediately if you experience a fever combined with any other symptom such as headache, diarrhea, muscle pain, or vomiting. You will be tested for the virus and placed in to quarantine for 21 days (the longest incubation period possible).
Ebola Virus Treatment
At present there is no single treatment for Ebola, though several immune therapies are being explored as treatment options, and two potential vaccines are being tested. The likelihood of survival of infected people is greatly increased by intravenous and oral rehydration and treatment of specific symptoms of the disease. At present, as many as 75 percent of people infected with the disease can be saved if they receive adequate medical care in time.
Ebola is a dangerous, highly contagious, fast-acting infectious disease. It does pose a serious health threat, particularly in parts of West Africa. But if you are not travelling to that part of the world or in contact with people who have, then you will most likely be completely safe from the disease. If you are concerned that you might have actually contracted the disease, do contact a medical center right away to discuss your symptoms and possibly be taken into quarantine. But otherwise know that you are most likely not at risk for developing it.