The Democratic Republic of Congo has experienced their ninth outbreak of the Ebola virus in the past forty years. The United States had an outbreak in 2014, prompting the disease to make headlines. Ebola hemorrhagic fever affects humans, as well as primates, such as chimps. The virus has a high fatality rate, and five known strains can infect the body. Four of the strains cause severe symptoms in people. Congo’s current outbreak is from a strain with a mortality rate of 60% to 90% – the Zaire ebolavirus.
Ebolavirus In Africa
Officials first recognized the virus in 1976, and named it after the Ebola River. The first human outbreaks occurred in central Africa and north Africa, in the Congo and Sudan. More recently, a new case was confirmed on May 16 in the port city of Mbandaka. There have been 23 deaths so far (updated May 22, 2018). This is worrisome as Mbandaka is a heavily populated urban area. In efforts to control the outbreak, Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) are sending supplies including protection and disinfection kits, water treatment kits and drugs to treat Ebola symptoms. MSF is working to trace the initial source and contain the outbreak.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some symptoms of Ebola are fever, headaches, fatigue, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle and stomach pains, and unexplained bleeding/bruising. The disease is often deadly, but patient response depends on clinical care, their immune system strength, and the strain that infected them. Symptoms typically appear eight to 10 days after exposure to the virus, but can appear anywhere between two to 21 days. Symptoms also match more common, less deadly illnesses, such as the flu, which can make it hard to diagnose early. Scientists consider the virus very infectious, but not very contagious. This means that a small amount of the virus can cause illness, but it is not airborne.
How Do People Become Infected?
Contact with bodily fluids, such as blood, tears, and urine from an infected person can spread the virus to a healthy human host. For this reason, healthcare workers are particularly susceptible as they work with infected patients. Asymptomatic infected persons and persons that have recovered cannot transmit the disease to others. While traces of the virus have been found in semen for up to three months, the CDC is still unsure if the virus can be sexually transmitted.
Quarantine and re-hydration methods treat Ebola, but no treatments have been proven to neutralize the virus. Experts are testing immune and drug therapies. Some experimental treatments include plasma transfusions from Ebola survivors to boost the infected’s immune response. Doctor’s are experimenting with vaccines. The World Health Organization (WHO) conducted a study with an Ebola vaccine in Guinea during a previous outbreak, and they said it was “highly protective.” The creators anticipate filing for approval sometime next year.