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Every few years, a new pandemic hits the globe and sends shivers down everyone's spines. The latest one making headlines is the Ebola virus, that has infected 6,263 people and caused 2,917 deaths in five West African countries, since the latest outbreak began in March 2014. So what is this disease that scientists have yet to find a cure for, and how do people catch it? Read on!
The virus is named after Congo's Ebola River that flows past the village of Yambaku, where the first case of the disease was identified in 1976. Scientists believe the virus spread from animals to humans due to the consumption of infected bushmeat - the flesh of the carcasses of non-domesticated mammals like bats, monkeys, chimpanzees, gorillas, forest antelope and porcupines.
Typical symptoms of people suffering from Ebola include fever, muscle aches, weakness, sore throat and headaches. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhea and a body rash and then soon after, unexplained hemorrhaging of internal organs. While signs of the virus can appear anywhere from 2 to 21 days after the person has been exposed, the average is between 8 to 10 days. Though there is no cure, patients can recover from the disease provided their immune systems are strong enough to fight the virus. Those patients also develop antibodies that protects them from the disease for at least a decade.
The good news is that quarantining infected patients can easily stop the spread of the disease. That's because Ebola is not an airborne virus like the common cold that can be passed on when an infected person coughs or sneezes. For the virus to spread, people have to come in direct contact with blood or other bodily fluids - like saliva, mucus etc. This happens only if the person physically touches an open wound on the infected person or objects (like needles) that he/she has been using.
While this would not be much of an issue in developed countries, which have state-of-the art quarantine facilities and the appropriate protective gear for the medical professionals, such is not the case in the West African countries. Here, needle re-use is common, hospital workers do not have adequate clothing and the facilities where patients are being treated are generally subpar! Also an issue. is the continued consumption of bushmeat by locals who are still unaware of the risks it poses.
Hence, while there is very little danger of the Ebola virus spreading in developed countries like the USA, it is a big problem in the West African countries of Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Senegal and Nigeria that are currently battling the epidemic.
This is not the first time the African countries have experienced an Ebola outbreak. However past epidemics have been quelled rapidly. Things are a little difficult this time around because unlike previous outbreaks that were primarily restricted to remote villages in Central Africa, this one has spread to urban areas and therefore been exposed to more people. Also, the latest outbreak is being caused by the Zaire ebolavirus that experts say is the deadliest of the five known strains, each of which are named after the country they originated in.
Given that scientists have still not been able to come up with an effective vaccination, the only thing the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) can do, is work with the governments of the affected countries and try curtail the spread of the epidemic by properly quarantining patients, providing healthcare workers with the right protective gear and encouraging the locals to practice better sanitation habits. Additionally, they are trying to educate residents about the dangers of consuming wild animal meat. Travel to and from the affected countries is also being carefully monitored. Hopefully, all these measures will help bring control the outbreak and prevent the virus from spreading further.
Resources: wikipedia.org, webmd.com,washingtonpost.com,news.nationalgeographic.com