(Update as of October 8, 2014) The world is keeping a close watch on West Africa as it suffers from an Ebola outbreak, the deadliest since the disease was first discovered in 1976. The first case of ebola in the United States was confirmed late September, with the majority of the outbreak still remaining concentrated in Africa. Despite this slow movement out of the continent, the Department of Health (DOH) has begun taking necessary precautions and has assured the public that the government is ready and equipped to contain the virus if it reaches the Philippines; but as always, individuals need to be equipped with their own weapon—information.
- Ebola is a virus, not bacteria. This is an important difference. Bacteria are single-celled organisms that can survive independently and they multiply by just splitting into two. A virus, on the other hand, needs a living host in order to thrive and multiply. Once they enter the human body, they hijack the cells’ machinery and redirect them to produce the virus instead. This means that viruses are much more difficult to kill than bacteria because the necessary vaccines require specific molecular engineering in order to halt their attack on cells and stop it from spreading.
- Ebola is not airborne. This makes the epidemic easier to control. Ebola is thought to first come from direct contact with infected animals such as fruit bats, forest antelope and chimpanzees. When a human is infected, the virus is transmitted through direct contact of bodily fluids and secretions such as sweat, blood, saliva, urine, stool and semen.
- There are three countries with widespread transmission of ebola. Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Nigeria, United States, and Spain are countries with localized transmission.
Guinea – 1350 cases, 778 deaths
Liberia – 4076 cases, 2316 deaths
Nigeria – 20 cases, 8 deaths
Senegal – 1 case, 0 deaths (infection originated in Guinea)
Sierra Leone – 2950 cases, 930 deaths
Spain – 1 case, 0 deaths
United States – 1 case, 1 death (infection originated in Liberia)
- The incubation period takes two to 21 days. Those who have contracted the disease will only begin to be contagious once they exhibit the symptoms. The early symptoms are similar to the common flu: runny nose and chills. Later symptoms include sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat, vomiting, diarrhea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding.
- There is no vaccine—yet. However, health officials have okayed the use of test drugs in infected individuals. Canada has donated 1,000 dosages of the experimental vaccine called Zmapp to WHO and continue to develop it.
- It is considered safe to travel to the affected areas. The risk of contracting the disease by traveling to the affected areas is very low since contamination is only successful through direct contact with a person infected with Ebola or who has died from it. However, extra precautions must still be maintained such as maintaining distance from patients, burial sites and objects used in treatment and quarantine.
In global crises such as this, fear and panic are a nation’s downfall; but sharing helpful information builds awareness and understanding on what’s going on, what’s causing it and the environment that surrounds the event. Don’t spread fear. Spread information.
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention
Philippine Department of Health
World Health Organization