Be ready for ebola

Officials have denied that there is a patient with ebola at Parirenyatwa Hospital. Whether you believe that or not, we know the disease has escaped from its home area in remote jungles, so we might meet cases.

Nobody knows much about it yet, but we all need to know as much as possible, so that we can judge among the conflicting rumours and denials we hear and can act rationally, not in panic.

It is reasonable, when we don't know just how dangerous a disease is, to maximise precautions until we prove they are not necessary. This comes from the latest entry in Wikipedia:

Ebola is a disease of humans and other primates caused by an ebola virus. Symptoms start two days to three weeks after contracting the virus, with a fever, sore throat, muscle pain and headaches. Typically, vomiting, diarrhoea and rash follow, along with decreased functioning of the liver and kidneys. Around this time, affected people may begin to bleed both within the body and externally.

The virus may be acquired upon contact with blood or bodily fluids of an infected animal. Spreading through the air has not been documented in the natural environment, though in the laboratory droplets such as we produce by coughing have been shown to transmit the virus. Fruit bats are believed to be a carrier and may spread the virus without being affected. Once human infection occurs, the disease may spread between people, as well.

Male survivors may be able to transmit the disease via semen for nearly three months. To make the diagnosis, other diseases with similar symptoms such as malaria, cholera and other viral hemorrhagic fevers are first excluded. To confirm the diagnosis, blood samples are tested for viral antibodies, viral RNA, or the virus itself.

Prevention includes decreasing the spread of disease from infected animals to humans. This may be done by checking such animals for infection and killing and properly disposing of the bodies if the disease is discovered. Properly cooking meat and wearing protective clothing when handling meat may also be helpful, as are wearing protective clothing and washing hands when around a person with the disease. Samples of bodily fluids and tissues from people with the disease should be handled with special caution.

No specific treatment for the disease is yet available. Efforts to help those who are infected are designed to keep patients alive while their body fights the virus, and include giving either oral rehydration (slightly sweet and salty water to drink) or intravenous fluids (delivered by a drip). The disease has a high risk of death, killing between 50% and 90% of those infected. EVD was first identified in South Sudan and the DRC.

The disease typically occurs in outbreaks in tropical regions of sub-Saharan Africa. From 1976 to 2013, the World Health Organization reported a total of 1,716 cases. The largest outbreak to date is the ongoing West African outbreak, which is affecting Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria. As of 6 September 2014, 4,293 suspected cases including 2,296 deaths had been reported, however the World Health Organization has said that these numbers may be vastly underestimated. Efforts are under way to develop a vaccine; however, none yet exists.

The WHO classifies ebola virus in the highest-precaution class of the four into which they divide infections. This involves strict isolation and pressurised protective clothing for anyone handling patients or material that might be infected. They might later find such strict precautions are not necessary, but it is better to be safe.

We have a special problem, though other countries share it. You may have heard the story about one community in Liberia who released their relatives from quarantine because they did not believe what officials told them about the disease.

Examine every story you hear carefully, check where anything you hear comes from, take as much care as you can and remember that an official denial doesn't prove a story is true.

Post published in: Analysis

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