Ebola and Its Spread in West Africa


Ebola virus disease, sometimes called Ebola hemorrhagic fever, made its comeback at the end of March this year in Guinea, located in West Africa. Suspected cases were also found in neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone as the disease can be spread easily.

The CDC initially announced the 2014 outbreak on March 25, and just two days later 66 deaths from the disease were reported out of 103 cases in Guinea. Sierra Leone reported five deaths out of six cases, with Liberia having six deaths out of eight cases.

Médecins Sans Frontières has been working with Guinea’s Ministry of Health in attempts to control the spread of the disease in the region. On March 31, the disease reached Conakry, Guinea’s capital, with 11 confirmed cases after the disease had been affecting four regions in the southeastern part of the country.

Over the next few weeks, more suspected cases were being confirmed by laboratory tests, the only way to know for sure if one has been infected. Health workers were also falling victim to the disease. Despite efforts being made to closely monitor Guinea’s vulnerable neighbors, Sierra Leone confirmed its first case on May 27.

As of May 28, the total number of deaths in Guinea stands at 186, out of 281 cases. In Sierra Leone, 16 cases were reported, with nine suspected cases coming from areas near the Guinean-Sierra Leonean border. Since April 9, no cases of Ebola have been reported from Liberia.

Ebola virus disease can also affect primates and has a mortality rate that can go up to 90 percent. Transmission comes from direct contact with infected blood, bodily fluids and tissue. Its origin is unclear, but fruit bats Africa are likely culprits.

Upon infection, symptoms can take two to 21 days to show, and after this period of time does the victim become contagious. Fever, sore throat, muscle pain, and severe weakness occur in the onset. As the disease progresses, skin rash can develop, along with weakened liver and kidney function and diarrhea. In extreme cases, bleeding can occur both internally and externally.

Immediate medical care can increase one’s chances of survival, for close monitoring is paramount when undergoing treatment. Controlling the spread of the disease as soon as possible via isolation is also crucial. Those with severe cases are at risk of frequent dehydration, and have to receive fluids with electrolytes while under intensive care.

If one survives, they can still be contagious and spread the virus for up to seven weeks following treatment. Men especially have to be careful, for the disease can be transmitted through semen. If one is not so lucky, immediate burial is a must, with those handling victims’ bodies needing gloves and protective clothing, just like health workers who care for those being treated.

There is no set treatment, nor is there a vaccine. Being educated on the disease is important in preventing infection and death. Travellers to these countries currently being monitored are advised to know the symptoms and where to seek immediate medical assistance.

The first-ever cases of Ebola virus disease in 1976 happened at the same time; one in a village in the Democratic Republic of Congo near the Ebola River, where the virus gets its name. The second case was in a Sudanese village. Both outbreaks claimed a combined total of 431 lives.

The last known outbreak before March of this year was in 2012 in the DRC, were 29 victims died. Ebola virus disease is considered rare. Still, health officials face a challenge in containing the spread of this deadly Ebola virus disease as it appears to be slowly spreads its way around these three West African countries.

By Sibylla Chipaziwa


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