News has emerged in recent weeks of the worst Ebola virus epidemic in history. Long thought dormant, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported over 600 fatalities this year, with 63 fatalities occurring in just one week.
The West African states of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have been most seriously affected, prompting the Ivory Coast to close its borders to 400 Liberian refugees. But the move, intended to safeguard the country against the virus, has been criticised by human rights activists as breaking international law.
With the virus still shrouded in mystery, here’s a quick outline of what you need to know about the disease currently grabbing headlines around the world:
The disease takes its name from a river in the Democratic Republic of Congo near where it was discovered. There is no known treatment for Ebola, nor are there any travel vaccinations to safeguard against contraction. The disease kills roughly 90% of people who contract it, so prevention and containment are the priorities of local governments and organisations such as the WHO who are dealing with the outbreak.
How is it spread?
Ebola is spread to humans through contact with infected animals. There is a long list of animals thought to be responsible for spreading the disease, ranging from chimps and gorillas, to fruit bats and livestock. Human-to-human transmission can occur through contact with an infected person’s blood or mucus cells. Health workers will often catch the disease due to a lack of preventative measures.
What are the symptoms?
In some cases symptoms might not be apparent until three weeks after infection. The earliest symptoms are not unlike a fever: intense weakness, severe muscle pain, sore throat and migraines. Soon these will become more serious, with vomiting, diarrhoea, liver and kidney failure characterising the second stage. Internal and external bleeding will follow, at which stage survival is sadly unlikely.
Since there are no vaccines available for human or animal cases of Ebola, prevention is always the primary course of action. For farmers and other animal owners it is advised that animal living quarters are frequently cleaned and disinfected. Avoiding close contact with infected individuals is paramount, as this is the most common course of contraction.