What is Ebola All About?
By Shiraa Noumbissie-Nzefa (Science & Tech Editor)
Very few people nowadays have not heard of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The death toll this year has already surpassed 2,000 people, including 79 health workers, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Regardless of the efforts employed by various organizations to slow down the outbreak, it seems to be speeding up instead, raising concerns over this devastating disease.
The severe outbreak has led to a worldwide panic, especially due to its high death toll in such a short time period. Gayle Smith, special assistant to President Barack Obama and senior director at the National Security Council, stated: “This is not an African disease. This is a virus that is a threat to all humanity.” Indeed, several health workers have already been infected, and in some cases, brought back to their countries of origin in order to be treated.
But why is Ebola so dangerous? Most of us know about the outbreak, but have little to no knowledge of what the actual sickness entails. According to the WHO, Ebola virus disease is an illness with a fatality rate of 90%, making it particularly deadly. It occurs mostly near rainforests, mainly in West and Central Africa, where it can infect humans. Although some species of the Ebola virus can be found in China and the Philippines, they have not caused any deaths or illnesses to date, according to WHO. Not native to the human species, the Ebola virus is transmitted to us through the handling of infected animals such as monkeys, porcupines and fruit bats.
From there, the infected person experiences several symptoms such as fever, intense weakness, muscle pains, headaches and sore throats. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rashes, impaired kidneys and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding. But the true reason for its deadliness is the fact that people are infectious as long as the virus resides in their body, even after recovery. In some cases, the virus has even been shown to be present in the body up to seven weeks after the patient has recovered! This makes it difficult to control the outbreak, especially in remote villages, where it is sometimes a tradition to expose the deceased corpse in order to honour it. Indeed, the virus might still be present in the body, thus leading to the infection of the people paying homage. Several experimental vaccines have been created in order to try and control the outbreak, but we are not sure of their efficiency, and it would still take months in order to make sufficient doses to treat patients.
So far, only 2,000 people have died due to this disease, but the World Health Organization is guessing that there will be at least 20,000 cases will before the end of the epidemic. This does not paint a pretty picture of the future, especially if we consider that according to BBC news, “The WHO death prediction figure has been described […] as optimistic by some scientists.”