Ebola Virus Disease: Symptoms, Transmission, Treatment and Prevention

Discovered in Sudan and Congo in 1976, Ebola virus is named after River Ebola in Congo. The disease typically occured in Sub-saharan Africa, but the largest outbreak that proved to be more severe, deadly and widespread began in March 2014 from West Africa. Up to now, about 4900 (underestimated, according to WHO) people had been reported to have died across 5 countries (Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria & USA).
Cause: Ebola Virus Disease is caused by Ebolavirus or Filovirus (Filoviridae family). It is zoonotic i.e. transmitted from animals (fruit bats, chimpanzee, monkey, antelopes, gorilla, porcupines, etc) to humans via direct contact with animal’s blood or body fluids.
Transmission: Infection may be acquired after direct contact with blood or body fluids (faeces, saliva, mucus, semen, vomit, breastmilk, urine, tears, sweat, etc) of a sick person ( after symptoms developed) via mouth, nose, eyes, broken skin and sexual intercourse (virus may survive in semen even 7 weeks after recovery). You can’t get infected through food, air, water, or an asymptomatic person carrying Ebola.


Symptoms: Symptoms may appear after 2 to 21 days after infection. Symptoms include moderate to high fever, pain in muscles and joints, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, vomiting, abdominal pain. As disease progresses, it may cause internal (vomit or coughing of blood, blood in stools, etc) and external bleeding (skin rash, bleeding from eyes, nose, ears).


Diagnosis: It may be difficult to identify Ebola through symptoms as the clinical picture may resemble other infections like malaria, cholera, typhoid and other viral haemorrhagic fevers. Ebola may be detected through blood test (detection of antibodies, low counts of white blood cells and platelets, high liver enzymes). Infection may also be confirmed by antibody-capture ELISA, RT-PCR assay, cell culture and electron microscopy.
Treatment: There is no definitive treatment or vaccine (2 vaccines undergoing testing) as of now. Patient is managed with symptomatic treatment which include managing electrolytes, blood pressure, oxygen saturation, dehydration and co-existing infections.
Prevention: Prevention, they say, is better than cure. Therefore, awareness and appropriate precautions may be helpful to avoid risk of transmission. Some of the precautions are:
1. Avoid close contact with fruit bats, monkeys.
2. Thoroughly cook animal food.
3. Wear gloves, masks and other protective clothing and equipment when in risk prone area (eg. hospital). Healthcare workers should be extra careful.
4. Isolate sick (with Ebola) people in clean environs for about 30 days.
5. Maintain proper hygiene (hand washing, use of sanitizer, etc).
6. Careful burial of a person who died of Ebola.
7. Avoid contact with blood and body fluids.