With fatality rate as high as 50%, Ebola hemorrhagic fever (shortened as Ebola virus disease) is one of the most contagious diseases in the face of this planet. Ebola quickly spreads through direct contact and the most affected are health workers, family members and others in close contact with infected and deceased patients. The virus is transmitted via blood, body fluids and tissues of infected animals and people, according to World Health Organization.
The onset of symptoms can occur anywhere between 2 – 21 days and the symptoms include fever, fatigue, muscle pain, headache and sore throat usually followed by vomiting and diarrhea. The disease is characterized by impaired kidney and liver functions and also internal and external bleeding. The laboratory studies indicate lower blood cell and platelet counts with increased enzyme activity in liver. Ebola infections in human beings are assessed using different methods such as ELISA, serum neutralization, electron microscopy, cell culture and RT-PCR assay.
Based on available evidence, Patients (male partners) should abstain from sexual activities until their semen has twice tested negative. In some cases, safe sexual practices are recommended. Post testing negative twice, the survivors can resume sexual activities without the fear of transmission.
Since 2014, over 10,000 cases of Ebola infections have been reported in Liberia resulting in 4,800 deaths. In Western African region which includes Liberia, nearly 30,000 cases were reported against deaths of 11,000.
Currently, vaccines are under development for Ebola but it has not been fully tested for safety or effectiveness. The survival of the patient currently depends on the effectiveness of the supportive care in treating the symptoms of Ebola and complications as they appear.
The treatment usually includes providing intravenous fluids and electrolytes. Also, it involves maintaining stable oxygen levels in the blood. Patients who survive Ebola develop antibodies that last for at least 10 years. However, there are cases where patients have developed long-term complications such as joint and vision problems.
To avoid transmission, healthcare workers are required to take necessary precautions such as basic hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene, and use of personal protective equipment, safe injection practices and safe burial practices. Also, it is of paramount importance to apply extra infection control measures to prevent contact with the patient’s blood and body fluids. Samples taken for laboratory tests need to be handled with utmost care and must be handled by only trained staff and processed in suitably equipped laboratories.
The World Healthcare Organization (WHO) aims to prevent Ebola outbreaks by maintaining surveillance for Ebola virus disease and support preparedness plans for at-risk countries. Usually, the support system provided by WHO includes surveillance, community engagement, case management, laboratory services, contact tracing, infection control, logistical support and training and assistance with safe burial practices.
The potential vaccines under trial (fast tracked by approving authorities) are currently developed by drug majors GlaxoSmithKline (in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health) and the Public Health Agency of Canada in collaboration with Merck. The third team to enter the race for Ebola vaccine is Johnson and Johnson and its ally Bavarian Nordic.
Maggie Martin is completing her PhD in Cell Biology, works as a lab tech for Mybiosource.com and contributes content on Bio-tech, Life Sciences, and Viral Outbreaks. Follow on Twitter @MaggieBiosource