MSF staff explaining the effects of Ebola to community members [MSF]
High-fever, weakness, body pain, headaches, and sore throat: I would pop some ibuprofen and regard these symptoms as the flu, hoping that in the morning I feel good as new. In Central and West Africa, however, these symptoms have—in some cases—escalated into severe vomiting, diarrhoea, irregular kidney and liver functions, and even more intense conditions like external bleeding from the pores, nose, and mouth. Ebola virus disease has left a reported 117 people dead since February 2014 and has been deemed one of the world’s deadliest viruses.
This is not the first outbreak of the disease; official reports date the earliest known cases of Ebola to 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Between 1976 and 2014 outbreaks have been dominant in remote villages of Central and West Africa.
The host source of Ebola has been identified as a type of fruit bat from the pteropodidae family. According to the World Health Organization, the disease has spread to other animals such as gorillas, chimpanzees, monkeys, antelopes, and porcupines; in several villages, these animals are considered culinary delicacies. Once transmitted into the human system, Ebola spreads into the community. The disease is passed through direct contact: broken skin and mucous membranes, blood transfusions, secretion, and other bodily and organ fluids. Unlike other diseases, even after death the body of the infected is a risk to family and friends, thus extreme caution must be taken during burial ceremonies of Ebola victims.
Complications have arisen with the side effects of Ebola. Like many other diseases, it weakens the immune system to the point where the body is unable to sufficiently defend itself. As the illness escalates, common side effects include organ failure, jaundice, delirium, seizures, coma, and shock, all of which play a detrimental role in the healing process of patients who survive the virus itself.
Currently, the most pressing outbreak of Ebola lies in Guinea on the West Coast of Africa where—according to the WHO—a total of 101 people of the 157 reported to have the disease have died. Officials report that the virus has spread from secluded villages to the Guinean capital, Conakry. This is a major threat; the capital hosts approximately 2 million people and this population size makes it incredibly difficult to keep a track of those who may be carrying the disease. Bordering countries are on high alert with cases already known in Liberia.
Is there a cure for Ebola? According to WHO, there is no treatment currently available to test either humans or animals. Treatment centres are providing patients with “medical care…that can improve their chances of survival…supportive care includes hydration, nutrition, and pain relief”, Dr. Phillipe Barboza of the World Health Organization states. There have indeed been a handful of cases where patients have responded to these simple yet effective measures, giving people hope to continue fighting, raising awareness, and motivating research and testing for potential vaccinations.
Regardless, frustrations have grown in the affected regions, where aid helpers such as Médecins Sans Frontières have been attacked recently by mobs accusing them of spreading the disease. Treatment centres in Macenta were shut down with promises to “resolve this problem as quickly as possible so [they] can start treating people again”.
M Lyla Saifi
Photo credits: Médecins Sans Frontières and Bloomberg