The Ebola virus, also known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, was first identified in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976 near the Ebola River. Ebola is caused by the infection Ebolavirus from the family Filoviridae. The natural host of Ebola is uncertain, but researchers believe it is animal-borne, and most likely a bat. The disease has a fatality rate of between 50% and 90%.
Human-to-human transmission of Ebola occurs from direct contact with blood or bodily fluids from an infected person. The blood or bodily fluids must enter through the eyes, nose, or mouth to cause infection. Transmission can only occur when the infected person is already showing symptoms. Ebola is not an airbourne virus, however mucus droplets caused by coughing or sneezing of an infected individual in the air or on surfaces can cause infection.
Symptoms of the Ebola Virus
Ebola shares many of the same symptoms as the common flu. Symptoms include fatigue, fever, joint and muscle pain, headaches, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite. Symptoms may also include shortness of breath, chest pain, and sore throat. The incubation period of contracting the virus and showing symptoms can be anywhere from 2 to 21 days. When fatal, death occurs 7 to 16 days after the onset of symptoms. Death is usually due to multiple organ failure.
Treatment of the Ebola virus
At this time there is no FDA-approved vaccine or medicine for Ebola. Ebola symptoms are treated individually and supportive care is given to the patient to relieve pain. Dialysis may be needed if kidney failure occurs. Patients are put into isolation to stop the spread of the virus. An experimental medicine, ZMapp, is currently in the testing phase. ZMapp works using three antibodies to bond the proteins of the Ebola virus. Two American patients were given emergency doses of ZMapp. While the patients did survive, there is not enough evidence it was due to the medication. It is not yet known if a survivor of the Ebola virus becomes immune for life, but researchers believe there is at least a 10 year immunity period. Many survivors have long-term joint and vision problems.
To contain the virus those in contact with an infected individual will be put into quarantine for up to 21 days to ensure that they will not also begin to show symptoms. The Ebola virus does not live long outside of the body and can be eliminated from items such as bedsheets and towels with water that has been boiled for at least five minutes. To eliminate the virus from surfaces, bleach or some alcohol-based products can be used.
The outbreak of Ebola in Africa is mostly due to poor healthcare, poor sanitation, no running water, poor education about the virus and burial practices. The United States has excellent sanitation practices and healthcare. Because of this an outbreak of Ebola in the United States, or any other first world country, is very unlikely.