The international public health alerted the public on the recent Ebola outbreak at Democratic Republic of Congo. In the past five weeks, the Democratic Republic of Congo has seen 21 suspected cases with Ebola-like symptoms and 17 deaths.
The purpose of this article is to critically analyse how ready we are in Nigeria to contain a possible global epidemic. The World Health Organization has also officially declared an Ebola outbreak with two confirmed cases and at least 10 more cases being suspected in the north-western town of Bikoro, Congo.
What do we know about Ebola?
The Ebola virus disease is an acute, serious illness which is often fatal if untreated. It is caused by the Ebola virus. Ebola virus is carried by wild fruits bats which are natural hosts to the virus. The virus is introduced into humans through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals such as chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines found ill or dead or in the rainforest.
How can one get infected with Ebola Virus?
- Human-to-human transmission via direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people.
- Direct contact with surfaces and materials (e.g. bedding, clothing) contaminated with these fluids.
- Burial practices that involve direct contact with the body of the deceased can also contribute in the transmission of Ebola.
- Sexual transmission is also considered to be possible.
Who is at risk of Ebola Virus?
- Healthcare workers
- Relatives of infected persons are at most risk of infection through this means.
- Persons who meet an infected person with no prior knowledge of the disease state of the infected person.
Symptoms of Ebola Virus Disease
- High fever
- Muscle pain
- Sore throat.
Subsequently, the patient may develop rash, vomiting, diarrhoea, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding (e.g. oozing from the gums, blood in the stools).
Why is Ebola virus disease (EVD) is considered very dangerous?
- WHO puts the average case fatality rate for EVD at around 50%. Case fatality rates have varied from 25% to 90% in past outbreaks. This means that out of every two persons infected with the virus, only one will survive.
- The Ebola virus is highly contagious and can easily spread from person to person. One confirmed case of EVD is classified as an epidemic.
- It is difficult to clinically distinguish EVD from other infectious diseases such as malaria, typhoid fever and meningitis. This creates a diagnostic dilemma and places health workers at significant risk as most times they treat patients without taking adequate universal protection protocols.
Treatment and Management of Ebola Virus Disease
Currently, there is no licensed effective medical treatment for Ebola Virus Disease, but survival can be improved. This includes;
- Early supportive care with rehydration
- Symptomatic treatment which can improve survival.
- There are some potential drug treatments that are under development and possible vaccine candidates at advanced stages of clinical trials.
Prevention and Control of Ebola Virus Disease
According to the World Health Organisation, good outbreak control relies on applying a package of interventions namely;
- Case management
- Surveillance and contact tracing system which was employed by the Federal Ministry of Health and all partners during the last outbreak to contain and control spread.
- Good laboratory/diagnostic service
- Safe burials and social mobilisation.
What is the way forward?
- Continuously raise awareness of risk factors for Ebola infection and protective measures that individuals can take to reduce human transmission.
- Adequate enlightenment of the public on the ever-present threat of this deadly disease in our environment should be done as often as possible.
- Government agencies that admit travellers into the country at different points of entry must remain alive to their responsibility to ensure that this disease is not imported into our country from places currently experiencing Ebola outbreak.
Related Article: Another Outbreak – Ebola: Is Africa Ready?
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