Ebola Virus (EV) gained global attention following unprecedented epidemics in equatorial Africa. Although it was easy containing pre-2014 outbreaks, this time the epidemic spread into urban centers and internationally very quickly. Besides that, the epidemic lasts for an extended period. However, what is the Ebola virus? What are its symptoms? Is Ebola treatable or preventable?
Isolated in 1976, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Sudan. According to the Center for Disease Control, Ebola-infected 28, 652 causing 11, 325 fatalities between 2014-2016. Since then, sporadic Ebola outbreaks have occurred mostly in Africa. Additionally, different countries across the globe have reported isolated Ebola cases. So, read on to find out more.
What is the Ebola virus?
Ebola Viral Disease (EVD) or Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever (EHF) is a rare and fatal disease that affects humans and non-human primates. Mainly, the EHF virus resides is endemic to Sub-Saharan Africa. The Ebola virus belongs to the family Filoviridae and genus Ebolavirus. Four types of the Ebola virus (EBOV) in this genus include:
- Reston virus
- Sudan ebolavirus
- Tai Forest ebolavirus
- Zaire ebolavirus
- Bundibugyo ebolavirus
- Bombali ebolavirus
Only four strains of EBOV cause EVD in humans, namely Bundibugyo, Zaire, Sudan, and Tai Forest. Reston ebolavirus affects pigs and non-human primates. It is not clear whether the Bombali strain causes the disease in humans or animals.
How does the Ebola virus attack the body?
Typically, viruses need a host cell to survive. So, once EBOV invades a cell, the virus hijacks the cell and begins to replicate. Shortly afterward, the virus spreads throughout a host’s body. In response, the human immune system produces antibodies to fight the invading virus.
Unlike less severe infections, the Ebola virus spreads at a fast rate rendering the immune system powerless to defend the body. Over time, the Ebola virus overwhelms the body short-circuiting normal bodily functions. By the time of death, a patient may have over 1 billion copies of the Ebola virus in a cubic centimeter of blood; equivalent to a fifth of a teaspoon in volume.
How is the Ebola virus transmitted?
Scientists have yet to confirm Ebola’s natural host. But field studies, lab results, and epidemiological surveys suggest that African fruit bats (Pteropodidae family) are the virus’ natural hosts. Contact with the blood, bodily fluids, or organs of infected animals introduces the virus to human populations. During epidemics, human to human transmission of the virus occurs through direct or indirect contact with secretions or body fluids of an infected person through broken skin or mucous membranes (in the eyes, mouth, or nose).
What are the symptoms of the Ebola virus?
After infection, it takes 2 to 21 days for symptoms to appear, with an average of 8 to 10 days. Victims cannot transmit the disease until they have developed symptoms. At first, Ebola has symptoms like those of any other viral infection. Initial symptoms of the Ebola disease include all or some of these symptoms:
- Sore throat
- Fever (higher than 101.5°/38.6°C)
- Muscle pain
As it progressively affects the body, the following symptoms occur:
- Impaired liver and kidney function
- Abdominal stomachaches
- Appearance of rashes
- In severe cases, victims may hemorrhage from the eyes, ears, mouth, and anus
- Lab tests may show reduced platelet counts, white blood cells, and increased liver enzymes
But is the Ebola Virus detected? Read on to find out how.
How is Ebola virus diagnosed?
Diagnosing the Ebola virus is a daunting undertaking, as its symptoms are like those of typhoid fever, meningitis, and malaria. Even so, lab diagnosis of the Ebola virus occurs in two main ways: measurement of specific immune responses or infectious particles in specimens. Techniques used in diagnosis include:
- Antigen capture detection tests
- Serum neutralization tests
- Electron microscopy
- Antibody capture enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA)
- Virus isolation using cell cultures
- Reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR)
READ ALSO: Can Ebola be treated or prevented?
However, when selecting a method to use, it is crucial considering factors such as disease prevalence or incidence, technical specifications, social and medical implications of testing results. Plus, Ebola experts recommend the use of proven and validated techniques for diagnosis. WHO endorses the following types of tests:
- Semi-automated or automated nucleic acid tests (NATs)
- Rapid antigen detection test where NATs are unavailable
Similarly, diagnosis specimens include:
- Whole blood collected from live patients
- Oral fluid specimens from deceased patients stored in an appropriate medium
NB: Specimen samples collected from patients pose a significant biohazard risk. Therefore, researchers and scientists should use a triple packaging system for national or international transport
Is Ebola virus disease treatable?
As of 2019, no cure is available for EVD. But several treatments and management options are promising. But this entails the provision of supportive care using intravenous or oral solutions, and treatment of specific symptoms to improve patient survival rates. These include:
- Immune therapies
- Blood products
- Drug therapies (vaccines)
Is Ebola virus disease preventable?
Effective Ebola outbreak control measures utilize a set of interventions including contact tracing, surveillance, case management, safe lab procedures, social mobilization, and safe burials. But risk mitigation methods should recognize the following factors:
- Minimizing the risks of animal to human transmission
- Reducing the risk of human to human transmission
- Use of epidemic containment measures
- Minimize the risk of sexual transmission of the virus
However, community engagement is vital for controlling outbreaks.
Indeed, the Ebola virus disease continues to pose significant health risks to populations across the globe. Even so, scientists are working hard to find a cure. Currently, several vaccine and development initiatives are ongoing. Hopefully, treatment will become available soon. In the meantime, sporadic outbreaks will continue to occur.