VANCOUVER, Washington — An Ebola diagnosis often seems to be a death sentence. With a fatality rate of 90 percent, it’s almost impossible to imagine surviving the disease. The current epidemic ravaging West Africa has already killed more than 670 people. However, hope does exist. A small number of patients who have survived the disease have shared their stories, feeling hopeful and renewed despite the growing stigma surrounding Ebola.
The World Health Organization classifies Ebola as “a severe acute viral illness.” Some symptoms resemble the flu – fever, weakness, sore throat, headache and muscle pain. Additionally, there is often vomiting, diarrhea, and possible internal and external bleeding.
The virus is transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids.
The incubation period of Ebola can range from two and 20 days, but National Public Radio said that, usually, about a week after infection, the illness reaches its peak. During this time, patients are most likely to die.
However, “if the body begins to produce antibodies to fight off the infection, then there’s hope.”
This could be supplemented with an intense treatment regimen, but the methods are not always practiced due to limited resources.
Once symptoms lessen, doctors perform blood tests to detect if the virus is still present. While it is certainly good news to see a negative blood test, great precautions must be taken to ensure transmission doesn’t occur from other bodily fluids.
The virus can remain present in semen and breast milk months after the it has left the blood. Some survivors must continue rehabilitation due to weight loss and weakness. Luckily, once Ebola survivors have tested negative, they are immune to the illness forever.
However, the social aftermath of surviving the disease is not always pleasant. Many Ebola survivors have been stigmatized by their villages and communities.
“Usually when someone dies people visit you but when we lost one and then two, three, four members of our family, nobody came to visit us and we realized we were being kept at bay because of fear,” said an anonymous survivor.
These fears often result from being misinformed or undereducated about the disease.
NPR reported on several survivors in Guinea, where one said she felt “reborn” after surviving. Another survivor, a doctor, reported than his community shunned his family upon his return from treatment. Many believe that Ebola survivors remain contagious.
Health workers with the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders and the World Health Organization are working to raise public awareness on the realities of Ebola.
Containing Ebola is the medical community’s top priority. Thus far, the disease has been isolated to West Africa, but as people travel out of the affected countries and into larger cities, the risk of spreading Ebola skyrockets.
A man carried Ebola into Africa’s largest city of Lagos, Nigeria on a flight. Ebola spreading from country to country in Africa sparks the fear that the disease could soon leave the continent.
Despite these fears, the fact that the death rate for the current outbreak is only 60 percent is a small reassurance that the treatment regimen has improved since previous outbreaks.
– Bridget Tobin