5 things to know about the Ebola virus

Staff Reports
5 things to know about the Ebola virus

   In every illustration, the Ebola virus resembles an oddly contorted snake, a tangle of indecipherable knots. And that, it seems, serves as metaphor for the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

     More than 220 patients have become ill in the region, and about 135 have died, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). While this is not the largest outbreak ever, it has proved to be a logistical challenge.
     Beyond treating the sick, health officials must trace a broader circle of some 640 individuals who have come in contact with an Ebola patient in six areas of Guinea and four areas of Liberia -- and sometimes across the borders of the two countries, according to WHO. Then there is the matter of protecting health care workers. In Guinea, 24 have become sick and 13 of those are dead.
     A new strain of the virus caused the outbreak, according to this month's New England Journal of Medicine.
   Scientists are still trying to identify the "presumed animal source," the journal reported. "It is suspected that the virus was transmitted for months before the outbreak became apparent because of clusters of cases in the hospitals of Guéckédou and Macenta. This length of exposure appears to have allowed many transmission chains and thus increased the number of cases of Ebola virus disease."
   The article concluded that the virus may have circulated undetected in the region for some time. "The emergence of the virus in Guinea highlights the risk of EBOV [Ebola] outbreaks in the whole West African subregion."
   Guinean authorities told Reutersthat few new cases had been reported. But Ebola continues to make headlines throughout the world. Here are five takeaways, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and WHO:

The virus was first identified in Africa in 1976.

     The species was named for the Ebola River in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Scientists aren’t exactly sure how the virus is transmitted to humans, although they hypothesize the first patient becomes sick through contact with an infected animal -- often bats.

     Ebola spreads in a way similar to that of other viruses – contact with an infected person’s blood or secretions. Family members caring for the infected person typically get sick too. 

After infection, symptoms begin abruptly.

     Indeed, symptoms commonly develop within eight to 10 days, but may occur anywhere from two to 21 days after infection. Signs and symptoms include fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain and lack of appetite. Some patients experience other symptoms, including rash, chest pain and bleeding, inside and outside of the body.

Treatment is limited to what the CDC describes as “supportive therapy.”

     Health officials define this as balancing a patient’s fluids and electrolytes, maintaining oxygen and blood pressure and treating complicating infections.  Treatment is important, but early symptoms – headache and fever, for example – don’t necessarily lead a victim to conclude there is a serious problem. For the same reason, early diagnosis is also tricky.

With few exceptions, the virus has remained in Africa.

    The exceptions involve two laboratory contamination cases in Russia and one in England. Other than that, all human cases have occurred in Africa.


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