Ebola Outbreak in West Africa Worries Health Officials


In 1976 a new virus entered the pantheon of lethal human pathogens – Ebola virus. That year outbreaks in Zaire and Sudan sickened 284 people and killed about half of them. Ebola virus causes an illness that initially resembles a typical intestinal virus, with fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, vomiting and diarrhea. Most patients quickly worsen and develop a rash, easy bleeding, and liver and kidney failure. About two thirds of the people who are infected die. Ebola is transmitted from person to person through infected bodily fluids, but since patients are frequently vomiting and suffering from diarrhea, and since outbreaks happen frequently in places with poor sanitation, infection can spread quickly. Without medical protective equipment, like gloves and masks, healthcare workers are often infected. The incubation period is two to four weeks. Ebola is also carried by wild animals, and bats are thought to be a reservoir of the disease.

Because Ebola is so rapidly fatal, previous outbreaks have been geographically very limited. It may infect everyone in a small remote village, but at least until now, infected people have been too ill to get on a plane or take a long car ride. The worst outbreaks have killed almost 300 people. New outbreaks have recurred in Central Africa every few years, presumably from contact with infected animals.

So far there is no vaccine or specific treatment for Ebola. It cannot be spread by respiratory particles (i.e. by coughing or sneezing). If it could, it would make the perfect bioterrorism weapon. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention lists it as a ” target=”_blank”>Q&A: Challenges of Containing Ebola's Spread in West Africa (National Geographic)
” target=”_blank”>Why West Africa’s Ebola Outbreak Is So Scary (Slate)
” target=”_blank”>Outbreak of Ebola in Guinea and Liberia (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

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