CONAKRY, Guinea — The 2014 Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia is the largest in history according to NPR. The outbreak started in March 2014, infecting approximately 600 people and killing 338 people. The outbreak has the public asking: How does one contract Ebola?
Currently, no vaccine or treatment exists to cure Ebola and the virus has a 90 percent fatality rate. Therefore, understanding how you get Ebola, knowing who is most likely to contract Ebola and the chances of Ebola spreading to more countries are essential pieces of information for those anxious about the disease.
The virus originates in animals. The World Health Organization ascertains that fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family are natural hosts of the Ebola virus. From fruit bats, the virus spreads to other animals, including monkeys, antelope, pigs and porcupines. When humans handle the bodies of these ill or deceased animals, the virus spreads to humans via the animal’s bodily fluid. The virus may then be transmitted among human populations.
The CDC outlines several ways that the virus spreads from human to human. A person may contract the virus if he or she comes into direct contact with blood or secretions from a person with the Ebola virus or if he or she has direct contact with an object infected with the virus.
The first form of transmission, direct contact with infected blood or secretions, often affects family and friends of an infected individual. As they care for a sick individual or bury a deceased individual, they come into direct contact with bodily secretions and may contract the virus. The second form of transmission, direct contact with an infected object, occurs primarily in hospitals and clinics. If protective equipment, medical devices and needles are not properly sterilized, healthcare workers may come into contact with an infected object.
These forms of transmissions deem friends and family of an infected individual and healthcare workers most susceptible to contraction of the Ebola virus. The World Health Organization advises that people limit their exposure to animals and raw meat, use protective clothing and proper food preparation techniques. Healthcare workers and family members of infected individuals should also wear protective clothing and avoid contact with those infected when possible.
The World Health Organization notes that the symptoms of Ebola include fever, muscle or head pain, sore throat followed by vomiting or diarrhea and impaired kidney or liver functions. Some infected individuals also experience internal and external bleeding.
The spread of the Ebola virus to other regions of the world remains a possibility. Certain factors, however, limit the spread of the virus. In an NPR article from June 2014, an infectious disease specialist, Kamran Khan, indicated that if the Ebola virus spread outside of Africa’s borders, it would most likely spread to Paris first. Guinea has an international airport but does not have a lot of international traffic and when it does, the main international destination is Paris. The same article also discussed cases of individuals infected with Ebola traveling internationally during other outbreaks. These individuals traveled without spreading the virus to anyone else on the airplane, suggesting that the same could occur during this outbreak.
Additionally, a Vanderbilt University professor of infectious diseases explained that a widespread outbreak of Ebola is unlikely in a developed nation due to medical protocol for the infected and deceased. If health officials can institute similar standards and practices in the three outbreak countries, they could quell the virus outbreak successfully.
The World Health Organization and the Global Alert and Response Network have sent teams to West Africa to help health officials contain and eliminate the virus. Awareness of how one gets the Ebola virus in the infected communities as well as global understanding of the disease will help combat the outbreak.
– Jaclyn Ambrecht