Ebola in Africa: Can we dodge a global pandemic?

Sunday, July 13, 2014
By Paul Martin

By Chris Kilham
July 10, 2014

Right now, a fight for survival is taking place in the West African nations of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Ebola, one of the most lethal diseases on the planet, is on a killing rampage. In Guinea, 303 people have died. In Sierra Leone, 99 have perished, and in Guinea, 65 lives have been claimed.

Within a few days, these figures will be higher. And the disease appears to just be getting warmed up. Spread by contact with bodily fluids, Ebola is flourishing in West Africa, and could be coming soon to a place near you.

When the outbreak began in Guinea in April, the mortality rate was higher than it is now. But the virus is still an extreme hazard, and health workers must work in full bio-hazard suits in order to keep themselves from being infected by the patients they are serving. The protective suits are extremely hot in the sweltering West African climate. They are like little mobile sauna units, slowly cooking the doctors, nurses and aids working inside them.

Named after the Ebola River, the virus was first discovered in 1976 in what was then Zaire and is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. A viral disease, Ebola starts out like a bad flu, exhibiting initial symptoms of fever, weakness, headache and muscle pain – but that’s where the similarities end.

The more severe symptoms commence as early as two days after contact with the virus. Ebola is a hemorrhagic fever, meaning it causes the rupturing of blood vessels throughout the body. Victims may bleed from the eyes, nose, mouth, ears, anus and genitals, as well as through skin ruptures. The liver, lungs, spleen and lymph nodes can be overcome by Ebola, leading to massive organ failure, and an agonizing death can follow.

There are five strains of Ebola: Zaire, Sudan, Reston, Cote d’Ivoire, and Bundibugyo. Of these, four are known to cause the disease in humans, whereas Reston does not appear to do so. The disease is transmitted from animals to humans. Fruit bats, monkeys, and wild game may host the virus and spread it to humans, but bats in particular are on the radar of health officials. They are known as reservoir species, carrying the virus without becoming sick from the disease.

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