CONAKRY, Guinea – The current Ebola outbreak in Guinea has been described as “unprecedented” and has many feeling alarmed and fearful for their lives. Over the course of several months, the Ebola virus started in a remote forested corner of Guinea in West Africa to the capital of Conakry. So far 122 people have been diagnosed in this recent outbreak. It has since seen confirmed cases in Liberia in addition to suspected cases in Sierra Leone. The most recent World Health Organization (WHO) statistics reveal 83 of the 122 cases in Guinea have resulted in death.
On March 31, Liberia’s health minister, Walter Gwenigale, warned citizens to stop having sex because the virus is spread via bodily fluids.
1. Where does it originate?
The Ebola virus is thought to originate in Africa’s population of wild fruit bats, but it is also common to be found in chimpanzees, gorillas, porcupines and forest antelope. It can also be transmitted by the handling of contaminated corpses.
The first outbreak occurred in 1976 in Nzara, Sudan and in Yambuku, Democratic Republic of the Congo. The name is derived from the ‘Ebola River,’ which was near the village in Yambuku where the first outbreak appeared.
2. How is it transmitted?
Ebola can be transmitted through bodily fluids. Direct contact with infected blood, organs, mucus or any activity that includes bodily fluid transmission runs the risk of become infected. This is a relief, since that means that unlike the flu, Ebola is not airborne, so it will likely be contained in a short amount of time.
3. Is it really that bad?
According to the Medical NGO, Doctors Without Borders (DWB,) it is. They have called the Guinea outbreak an “epidemic of a magnitude never before seen”. The WHO, on the other hand, claims it is very serious, but it has not reached epidemic proportions. Further, WHO rejects claims that DWB described the outbreak as being “unprecedented.”
WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl says the outbreak in Guinea pales in comparison to the one in Uganda in 2000 and 2001 which infected more than 400 people.
“The source of infection is still quite localized in the southeast of Guinea. So, for us, this fits the pattern of all previous Ebola outbreaks,” says Hartl.
The disease has not spread to other countries, according to WHO. Ebola virus outbreaks have a case fatality rate of up to 90 percent.
Esther Sterk, Médecins Sans Frontières tropical medicine adviser, says that it is important to inform the population about the disease, as this is the first time Ebola has been detected in Guinea, so both the public and medical staff must be educated on how this disease is transmitted, what are the symptoms, how to protect yourself and other risk factors.
4. What are the signs & symptoms?
When infected, symptoms can appear from two days to 21 days. Early symptoms can include rashes and red eyes, making it all the more difficult to diagnose. The virus is spread quickly in humans, which has many alarmed. Other symptoms include fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. In more extreme cases, these symptoms are accompanied by vomiting, impaired kidney and liver function and internal and external bleeding.
“Every day we’re reading about it in the newspaper, hearing about it on the radio, and wondering when it’s going to come here,” said 32-year-old Mossa Bau, who lives in Dakar, Senegal.
Bau continues, “everyone is very scared because, really, it’s a dangerous disease and no one has the means to stop it.”
5. Is there a cure or a vaccine?
Not yet, according to the WHO. The process is the same for all outbreaks: the virus is contained by isolating the victims and those who have come into contact with them, anyone ranging from family to medical workers.
Infected individuals are typically hospitalized and will receive the appropriate medications and fluids to help recovery. Currently there are several vaccines that are being tested. The WHO says, “samples from patients are an extreme bio-hazard risk; testing should be conducted under maximum biological containment conditions.”
Sources: The Independant, Voice of America, BBC, WHO, USA Today