The World Health Organization recently declared an international public health emergency in response to what its director general, Dr. Margaret Chan, called “the largest, most severe, most complex outbreak” of the deadly Ebola virus “in the nearly four-decade history of the disease.”
It is reported that Ebola has infected about 1,800 people in four West African countries and almost 1,000 have died from the infection. The Centre for Disease Control has elevated its response to the highest possible level to adequately support prevention and treatment.
Sierra Leone, has the highest number of cases followed by Liberia, which has declared a 90 day state of emergency. Nigeria has also declared a state of emergency. These countries have employed public health measures that should ultimately bring the outbreaks under control.
Kenya has not had any case identified. However The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified Kenya as a “high-risk” country for the spread of the deadly Ebola virus. Kenya is vulnerable because it is a major transport hub, with many flights from West Africa. We should all take the necessary precautions to ensure that we do not fall victim to this fatal disease.
What is Ebola Virus Disease?
Ebola virus disease (EVD) was formerly known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever. It is a severe and often fatal illness in humans. 90% of those infected die. Outbreaks occur primarily in Central and West Africa, near tropical rainforests. Transmission to people is from wild animals and spreads among the human population through human-to-human transmission.
The natural hosts of the virus are fruit bats. Once infected,humans become severely ill and require intensive supportive care. The incubation period or the time interval from infection with the virus to onset of symptoms is 2 to 21 days.
Currently there is no licensed specific treatment or vaccine available for use in people or animals.
Signs and symptoms of Ebola
EVD is initially characterized by the sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function. In some cases patients develop both internal and external bleeding. People are infectious as long as their blood and secretions contain the virus.
A high index of suspicion is required; however other diseases should be ruled out before a diagnosis of EVD can be made include: malaria, typhoid fever, shigellosis, cholera, leptospirosis, plague, rickettsiosis, relapsing fever, meningitis, hepatitis and other viral hemorrhagic fevers.
- Ebola virus infections can be diagnosed through:
- Antibody-capture enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA)
- Antigen detection tests
- Serum neutralization test
- Reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) assay
- Electron microscopy
- Virus isolation by cell culture
Vaccine and Treatment
Several vaccines are being tested, but none are available for clinical use. Ill patients require intensive supportive care. Patients are frequently dehydrated and require oral rehydration with solutions containing electrolytes or intravenous fluids. No specific treatment is available.
Prevention and Control
In the absence of effective treatment and a human vaccine, raising awareness of the risk factors for Ebola infection and the protective measures we all can take is the only way to reduce human infection and death.
We all need to know that we should:
- Avoid contact with infected fruit bats or monkeys/apes and the consumption of their raw meat.
- Handle animals with gloves and other appropriate protective clothing.
- Thoroughly cook animal products (blood and meat) before consumption
- Avoid direct or close contact with infected patients, particularly with their bodily fluids
- Wear gloves and appropriate personal protective equipment when taking care of any ill patients at home
- Regularly wash hands and especially after visiting patients in hospital, as well as after taking care of patients at home
- Visit the nearest health facility when ill
- Report or inform authorities of anyone who is ill or suspected to be infected
**It is not always possible to identify patients with Ebola Virus Disease early because initial symptoms may be non-specific. It is important that we all apply standard precautions consistently with all people who are unwell or otherwise at all times. Basic hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene, the use of personal protective equipment and safe burial practices**