Unless you come from or have visited a country where Ebola has been diagnosed, you may never have heard of this deadly disease. But Ebola is leaking into the American consciousness after independent news outlets have reported the concerning news that recent migrants from Africa have been released into U.S. cities pending immigration asylum court reviews.
Why should any American care about this obscure, third-world contagion? What the heck is Ebola anyway?
Credit the Ebola River, which flows near a village in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where the first case was identified, for naming the disease.
Everyone needs to know some basic facts about Ebola in order to protect themselves, their families, and their loved ones. Knowledge is power, after all.
Ebola is called a hemorrhagic fever virus. It can only infect certain animals, notably bats, monkeys, chimpanzees, gorillas, and humans.
Ebola can only be spread by direct contact with another infected animal’s skin or bodily fluids (blood, saliva, sweat, tears, mucus, vomit, feces, breast milk, urine, and semen) or by touching objects that have come into direct contact with contaminated fluids.
The Ebola virus destroys cells within the infected host body, causing some of them to explode. The virus reduces blood clotting. Internal bleeding results as blood leaks from small, internal blood vessels. The Ebola virus also produces inflammation and damages tissues.
The first signs of an Ebola infection resemble the flu and are often misdiagnosed as some other more common disease such as malaria or cholera. Initial symptoms include:
- High fever
- Aching joints and muscles
- Sore throat
- Stomach pain
- Loss of appetite
More serious symptoms then develop:
- Internal hemorrhaging (bleeding)
- Hemorrhaging from the eyes, ears, and nose
- Vomiting or coughing up blood
- Bloody diarrhea
Ebola is an unusual disease because it takes 21 days – three weeks – for the first symptoms to appear. This lengthy incubation period makes a positive diagnosis difficult.
By the time the disease has been recognized for what it is, the infected person has had plenty of opportunity to transmit the disease to others.
Ebola patients are immediately quarantined (secluded) to prevent the spread of the disease.
Ebola can only be transmitted by direct contact with an infected animal that is symptomatic (showing signs of the disease).
There is no danger from of contracting Ebola from air, water or food.
People who provide care to Ebola sufferers or who inter the dead body of someone dead from the virus are at high risk of becoming infected.
There is no cure presently for Ebola. Physicians can only give Ebola patients fluids and electrolytes, oxygen, blood pressure medication, blood transfusions, and treatment for other infections to medically manage the pathogen.
An experimental preventative Ebola vaccine “being used to try to contain the outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is protective 97.5% of the time,” according to a WHO reported dated April 12, 2019.
Twenty-eight year old Christine Masika is a resident of Butembo, the town situated at the heart of the DRC’s recent and ongoing Ebola outbreak. On May 15, she said:
“My concern is, this infection is spreading from day to day. It doesn’t stop. Everyone at home has been vaccinated against Ebola, everyone is trying to remember the rules of hygiene to protect ourselves.”
The best way to avoid an Ebola infection is to stay away from places where Ebola cases have been reported and do not come into direct contact with anyone from places where Ebola cases have been reported or with animals carrying the Ebola virus.
Those places are located mainly in equatorial Africa, notably the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where the most recent epidemic – the worst outbreak of Ebola known to human history – occurred during the first half of 2019.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as of June 4, 2019, a total of 2,025 Ebola cases were confirmed and reported in DRC, with 1,357 deaths reported.
On June 6, 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) revealed that 88 confirmed cases had been reported during each of the previous two weeks, down from the 126-case weekly high logged in April 2019, and noted that incidents of the disease are declining:
“As the Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak surpasses the 2000 case mark, indicators over the past two weeks provide early signs of an easing of the transmission intensity.”
On June 14, 2019, the WHO shared a statement on the meeting of the International Health Regulations (2005) Emergency Committee for Ebola virus disease in the DRC, which “decided that the Ebola outbreak in CRC does not constitute a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. The Director General accepts these recommendations and WHO advises against the application of any travel or trade restrictions.”
This lifting of DRC travel and trade bans follows community mistrust and violent, armed groups which have hampered efforts to stop the African Ebola epidemic. Health workers were forced to suspend treatment work.