Ebola virus disease, or Ebola hemorrhagic fever, as it was earlier known as, is a severe illness which is often fatal, if left untreated.
The disease was first identified in 1976 when two outbreaks were reported from Nzara, South Sudan, and the other in a village near the Ebola River in Yambuku, Democratic Republic of Congo, from which the disease takes its name.
In May this year, WHO declared a new outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) making it the ninth outbreak of EVD in the country since it was first identified. On June 4, an ethics committee in DRC approved the use of five investigational therapeutics to treat Ebola, under the framework of compassionate use/expanded access. This is the first time such treatments are available in the midst of an Ebola outbreak, says the WHO.
- Ebola virus disease is caused by the Ebola virus, which belongs to the Filoviridae family. Five species – Zaire, Bundibugyo, Sudan, Reston and Taï Forest – have been identified in the genus Ebolavirus. Of these, Zaire, Bundibugyo, Sudan and Taï Forest can cause disease in humans, while the Reston virus causes disease in nonhuman primates and pigs and not in humans.
- Fruits bats (family Pteropodidae) are natural hosts of the virus.
- Transmission to humans occurs via through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals. Human to human transmission occurs through direct contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of a person who is sick with or has died due to Ebola or contaminated surfaces. Burying the deceased patient also transmits the virus. Sexual transmission (via semen) may also occur.
- The incubation period is 2-21 days.
- The illness begins with sudden onset of fever, fatigue, muscle pain, severe headache and sore throat. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, abdominal pain and unexplained bleeding manifestations.
- History of exposure to the Ebola virus 21 days before the onset of symptoms should raise the suspicion of Ebola virus infection.
- Diagnosis is confirmed by automated or semi-automated nucleic acid tests (NAT); if NATs are not available, rapid antigen tests are used to screen for Ebola infection. Specimens for testing include whole blood in EDTA and oral fluid in universal transport medium. The virus can be detected three days after the symptoms appear.
- There is no specific treatment for Ebola. The infected person should be isolated. Early supportive care, which includes rehydration, oxygen supplementation, management of symptoms like fever, headache including treatment of infections improves chances of survival.
- There is no approved vaccine for Ebola. Practicing infection prevention and control practices along with surveillance and contact tracing, a good laboratory service, prompt and safe burial of the dead may help transmission of infection.
Links to earlier published stories on Ebola Virus Disease in eMedinewS