Ebola virus can cause a deadly disease which can be contracted by touching the skin of a person infected with the virus. Knowing how the virus spreads can help you in undertaking measures that will keep you safe from contracting it.
There is increased skepticism in the world at the moment that Ebola Virus might reach other places and may not remain confined to West Africa. These alarms have peaked since the upsurge in the victims of Ebola virus in the West African nation of Guinea. The virus started with only a few cases in March but has caught more victims now. The total number of victims of the virus has now increased to 909 established cases and some 414 additional cases where presence of the virus is being feared.
The patients of the virus are present in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria in addition to the Guinea where the outbreak started.
What Is Ebola Virus?
The Ebola virus which is feared to spread from West Africa to other parts of the world came to be known in 1976. It has been named after River Ebola which flows through the country where it was first found in Democratic Republic of Congo. The virus has been known to break out a few times since its discovery. However, every time it has not affected anyone outside the West African region.
The Ebola virus causes a disease which is called Ebola hemorrhagic fever which is simply also known as the Ebola disease. The disease caused by the Ebola virus has often led to the death of the patient. Apart from affecting humans, the disease also affects monkey and gorillas. The body’s immune system and important organs are harmed by the spread of the disease through the body. Blood’s platelets count also gets significantly dropped which results in unrestrained bleeding.
In addition to being found in Africa, the virus has also been known to exist in Philippines. However, the strain of the virus present in Philippines does not affect humans.
What Are the Types of Ebola Virus?
The Ebola virus which causes the rare yet fatal Ebola disease can be classified into 5 types. The types are Ebola-Zaire, Ebola-Ivory Coast, Ebola-Reston, Ebola-Sudan and Ebola-Bundibugyo. Among these 5 types of the virus, only Ebola-Reston is known to not result in a disease in humans. This is the only class of virus which is also present in Philippines. The rest of the types of Ebola only exist in Africa.
How Can You Contract Ebola Virus?
Natural Ebola Virus Host
Fruit bats are the natural carriers of the Ebola Virus. This is the reason the presence of the virus coincides with the geographical area in which fruit bats are found. Even among the fruit bats, certain species are more naturally suited to be the host of the virus. These include Myonycteris torquata, Genera Hypsignathus Monstrosus and Epompos Franqueti.
How Does It Spread Among People?
Ebola virus can spread among people through the blood, organs and body fluids of a person infected by the Ebola virus. A person can get the virus if he comes into contact with any of the above mentioned things of an infected person. Most of the people who contract the virus are mostly caregivers of the person infected by Ebola virus. They get the infection mostly while washing the urine, vomit or stool of the person especially if they contain blood. Touching the body of the infected person can also result in transmission of the virus.
The rituals of burial in certain African cultures have also been responsible for the virus spreading in certain cases. The reason for this is the fact that certain rituals in Africa involve people attending the funeral touching the dead body. Since the virus has been known to survive for a number of days outside the body, it also remains on the skin of the person who is infected by it. Once a person attending the funeral of an infected person touches the dead body’s skin, all that remains for the transmission of the virus is for him to touch his mouth. This will also infect him with the Ebola virus. Following are certain additional ways of contracting the virus:
- A person touching his mouth after getting into contact with the soiled clothing of a person with Ebola disease.
- Having unprotected sex with a person with the Ebola virus. The virus remains for up to seven weeks in the semen of the infected person even after he has recovered.
- Touching medical equipment and needles used to treat a person with Ebola virus.
Ebola virus is not like flu in the sense that it does not spread like common cold through air. Only close physical contact with a patient of Ebola disease causes the virus to spread. Moreover, normal social contact with a person who has no visible signs of the disease also does not result in the disease getting transmitted. Blood, urine, stool or other body fluids can contain the virus long after a person has recovered from Ebola. Therefore a person can end up transmitting the disease to others as long as the virus remains in his body fluids.
Risk Factors of Being Infected with Ebola Virus
The following are some of the instances in which a person’s chances of getting infected with Ebola virus increase:
- Visiting Africa
People visiting Africa or a country, where Ebola virus outbreaks have occurred are at a high risk of contracting this virus.
- Animal Researchers
Animal researchers who are conducting research on animals that have been brought in from the Philippines or African countries are more likely to get infected with Ebola virus.
- Medical Care Providers
People providing medical care to the patients of the Ebola virus like doctors, nurses and family members can contract the disease if they do not use protective equipment.
- Burial Helpers
People offering help in preparing the bodies of those who have died of Ebola virus for burial are also at an increased risk of developing this disease.
Are There Any Vaccines Against Ebola Virus?
At present, there are no vaccines available for EVD. Research is being done on many possible vaccines but all of them are currently in the testing phase.
Since the patients of this disease get dehydrated pretty quickly, they have to be rehydrated orally with electrolytic solutions or fluids passed through an IV.
Even though several new medications are being tested, right now there is no treatment method available for this disease.
How to Prevent Ebola Virus Infection
Since there is still not much known about this disease, no vaccine has been developed for it and only a handful prevention measures have been identified.
Hospitals and healthcare facilities are prime locations for the spreading of the disease thus, it is necessary that the medical staff working there are aware of the techniques of barrier nursing and is able to detect the symptoms of the virus quickly. The healthcare workers must remain ready to run tests and send blood samples of the patients to other locations for testing purposes.
Techniques for barrier nursing include usage of protective gear like masks and gloves, complete isolation of the patients of the disease, usage of disinfectants and sterilization of all the medical equipment on a frequent basis.
People who are travelling to countries where Ebola virus is known to exist must avoid contact with any body fluids or blood. They should stay away from hospitals that are treating Ebola patients and must not handle any equipment that might have been used by an Ebola patient.
Watch an easy-to-understand BBC News video which explains Ebola virus: