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The Ebola virus: Origins and dangers
August 18, 2014, 6:16 pm

An Ebola awareness campaign poster warns passengers at Lungi Airport in Sierra Leone of the ways the virus is transmitted [Xinhua]

An Ebola awareness campaign poster warns passengers at Lungi Airport in Sierra Leone of the ways the virus is transmitted [Xinhua]

The World Health Organization (WHO) and various medical charity groups have warned that the scale of the current deadly Ebola virus in West Africa is unprecedented in terms of geographical distribution, people infected and deaths.

More than 2,100 people have contracted the disease in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria, and of those at least 1,145 have died.

What is the Ebola virus?

The Ebola virus, also referred to as Ebola hemorrhagic fever because of one of its most visible symptoms, is an incurable disease with a very high fatality rate. It was first identified in 1976.

Some doctors have noted a fatality rate of at least 60 per cent, but WHO says that can be as high as 90 per cent.

Symptoms can appear as early as two days (and as late as three weeks) from infection and first include headaches, sudden weakness, severe fever and chills, throat and muscle pains. This is followed by vomiting and diarrhea.

The virus is known to debilitate multiple organ systems, leading to bleeding – or hemorrhaging.

Where did the virus originate?

The virus is believed to have originated in fruit bats in Africa; they are considered natural carriers.

The virus can incubate for years inside infected animals without harming the host.

How does it spread to humans?

It quickly spreads to humans who are in close contact with infected chimpanzees and other animals which inhabit tropical rainforests.

Infection can quickly spread through contact with bodily fluids – even sweat, and semen; secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals.

People with cuts, abrasions and mucous membranes are particularly vulnerable if in the proximity or in contact with infected patients.

But a number of studies have shown that increasing deforestation, poverty and recession have increased the likelihood of humans coming in contact with animals who may be carrying the virus.

These studies say that poverty may push some to seek the meat of bush animals (carriers), thereby increasing the risk of infection.

People who come into contact with surfaces and material, utensils, and equipment handled by Ebola patients are also at high risk of infection.

Unlike the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the Ebola virus is not airborne.

Is this the first outbreak?

No, there have been previous outbreaks of the virus but none have spread so quickly across borders.

The first outbreak occurred in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976 and was actually named after the Ebola River where many of the cases of infection were first reported. Some 380 people contracted the disease – 280 died.

It resurfaced in 1995 and 2007 and killed a total of 437 people.

The WHO says the current outbreak, which was first reported in Guinea in February 2014, but quickly spread to neighbouring countries Liberia and Sierra Leone, is far worse than any ever seen.

How can Ebola be treated?

There currently is no cure for the Ebola virus and although the survival rate is between 10 and 40 per cent, survivors battle dehydration, weakness, and other maladies.

While there is no vaccine as yet, several countries have began clinical tests for a serum.

In late July, a highly experimental drug called ZMapp was given to two American doctors who had contracted the Ebola virus while treating patients in Liberia.

They both quickly recovered, but their treatment has led to a series of ethical quagmires about testing without clinical trials and approval, and whether the drug should be made available to African countries currently in a state of emergency.

WHO met with ethicists on August 18 and received approval to distribute experimental drugs which have not yet received clinical testing and authorization.

WHO has said that a vaccine is unlikely before 2015.

How are West African nations dealing with the outbreak?

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has called for international assistance to get the outbreak under control [Xinhua]

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has called for international assistance to get the outbreak under control [Xinhua]

Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone declared a state of emergency after WHO said that the spread of the Ebola virus had become a “public health emergency of international concern”.

But these countries are overwhelmed and racing against time to contain the virus. Some of their medical staff have succumbed to the virus due to poor health environments, and many international medical volunteers have been evacuated from the region.

For the time being, the governments of Guinea, Liberia and Nigeria have deployed troops to quarantine areas that have been the hardest hit by the virus.

Some countries say they are also battling myth and superstition as well as the virus.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has told international media that one of the greatest obstacles facing medical staff in her country was the widespread denial that some families feel when someone falls ill.

“My fellow Liberians, Ebola is real, Ebola is contagious and Ebola kills,” she warned in a televised address earlier this month.

“Denying that the disease exists is not doing your part, so keep yourselves and your loved ones safe,” she said of the virus which has killed 400, including dozens of doctors and nurses, in her country.

Sirleaf, who on July 31 ordered her country’s schools shut and called for the closure of markets in an effort to curb the spread of the virus, has called the Ebola outbreak in Western Africa “devastating” and “catastrophic”.

The virus this has lead to a drop in productivity and agricultural growth leading to fears of food shortages. International development agencies, which were vital to local economies, have withdrawn their staff. The World Bank says economic growth forecasts for West Africa have been slashed.

What is the international community doing to assist these countries?

A number of countries have been providing assistance to West African governments as they battle the spread of the virus.

On Saturday, the US successfully delivered doses of the ZMapp serum to the Liberian capital Monrovia. Two Liberian doctors and one Nigerian doctor who had contracted the virus were immediately given the experimental serum.

Meanwhile, the Atlanta-based Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) says it will dispatch in the next few days some 50 disease-control specialists to help establish emergency centers in West Africa.

The US will also be sending two robots which will assist in cleansing and disinfecting hospitals and clinics where medical staff contracted the disease.

China has also sent medical experts and an almost $5 million aid fund to the worst affected countries – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. It has also dispatched supplies include protective clothes, gloves, disinfectants, thermo-detectors and medicines.

According to WHO, Canada has donated several hundred doses of an experimental vaccine to be administered to patients.

Is the world safe?

So far, more than 99.99 per cent of reported cases have been localized in West Africa where years of conflict and civil strife have prevented the development of basic public health infrastructure.

Lack of education and/or media awareness campaigns have also allowed myth and superstition to influence local populations.

Nevertheless, in the past month major African airports have installed warning systems which detect if a passenger has an elevated body temperature.

A number of countries have barred travel to Ebola-stricken regions; some have barred travelers from West Africa. Kenya and Cameroon, for example, have suspended flights to Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria.

Emirates and British Airways have also suspended flights to these countries.

Fears of the spread of the virus have prompted sports officials to ban athletes from West African nations to participate in international venues.

Although, the WHO says it has underestimated the scope of the severity of the Ebola virus in West Africa, there have been no reported cases of infection in any country beyond that region since the outbreak was first detected in February 2014.

How does one protect from Ebola?

While Ebola is far deadlier than the SARS outbreak a decade ago, it is easier to contain because it is not airborne.

One should avoid coming into contact with the bodily fluids of someone who may be running a fever; avoid contact with health providers working in West Africa.

Those who are travelling should follow local advisories – such as from the CDC, which has advised airlines on screening procedures for international travel.

Travel agents in most countries also have advisory notices for passengers.

All health providers also advise washing hands with soap and/or using alcohol-based sanitizers.

Bush meat, or meat coming from wild animals should also be avoided.

The BRICS POST with inputs from WHO, CDC and Agencies

One Response to The Ebola virus: Origins and dangers

  1. Scott M Thompson Reply

    January 16, 2015 at 6:21 pm

    Attempt to obtain the declassified National Intelligence Estimate of 2011. But, it was merely a report issued nearly a decade after then Presidential candidate Lyndon H. LaRouche had testified before Congress, on what the NIE calls the emergence of 50 old or new diseases. As Chatham House U.K.has been reporting for years species jump–as reported here from fruit bats to humans–has occurred time and again. But, the true cause, a Mr. LaRouche and associates can be found nowhere in Chatham’s;or, similar reports. The real major cause is the lack of energy throughput in the biosphere, what LaRouche has called energy-flux-flux-density. There have been numerous efforts to halt progress in safe nuclear; and controlled fusion, by the City of London and Wall Street gangs, including the illegal persecution of the Fusion Energy Foundation, by the so-called “Nuclear Club of Wall Street,” that had hundreds of thousands involved in the drive for fusion, needed for everything from water desalinization for such as agriculture and disease fighting, irradiation of food for longer preservation; and, the Fusion Torch that can take a garbage dump and create all the new elements one needs. FEF had been in the frontlines of the man-made climate change hoaxters; and, LaRouchepac continues that fight through further discoveries of the sun cycles responsible for earths warming or cooling.

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