Since the initial outbreak in Guinea in March 2014, more than 8,033 cases of people infected with the Ebola virus have been reported. As of October 1, 2014, 3,866 people have died from the disease. By the end of 2015, Ebola had claimed 11,300 victims. In January 2015, the Word Health Organization declared that West Africa was Ebola-free by January 2015. Because the disease is so rare — not to mention deadly — there are many misconceptions about Ebola virus. Thanks to the Internet, fallacies — and fear — travel faster than any epidemic. Here are some fast facts about the Ebola virus.
Ebola virus was originally named the Zaire virus after the region where it was first identified — in the small village of Yambuku, 6o miles south of the Ebola River, in northern Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) in 1976. The virus was renamed in 2010 to avoid confusion with another virus, the Marburg virus that originated in Germany in 1967, that also causes a often-fatal hemorrhagic fever in humans and mammals. As used in the media, “Ebola” refers to either “Ebola virus” or “Ebola virus disease.”
The first case (known as the index case), identified on August 26, 1967, was Mabalo Lokela, the headmaster of a school, who had traveled along the Ebola River about a week earlier. The source of the virus is believed to be fruit bats that live in the region. Lokela died a gruesome death, bleeding from every orifice, on September 8, 1976 at a small mission hospital. Within days, due to contact with the patient and subsequent infected individuals and reuse of unsterilized needles, the virus spread to 318 people, of which 280 died. The outbreak was contained by quarantining the village, use of protective clothing for medical personnel, and sterilization of critical medical equipment.
The index case for the current Ebola epidemic — the most severe outbreaks since it was discovered — is believed to be a two-year-old boy who died on December 6, 2013 in the village of Meliandou in Guinea. Unfortunately, the disease spread quickly over several months, until if was officially identified as Ebola in March 2014.
The World Bank has estimated that it will cost up to $1 billion to treat infected individuals and contain the Ebola epidemic. Moreover, in a report released on October 9, 2014, the World Bank estimates that the impact of the disease on the economy of West Africa will reach $32.6 billion by the end of 2015.
What are symptoms of Ebola? Symptoms of Ebola include: fever, aches, weakness, stomach pain, diarrhea, vomiting, rashes, chest pain, sore throat, red eyes, and internal and external bleeding. Symptoms typically appear eight to ten days after exposure; however the incubation period can last up to 21 days.
What is the treatment for Ebola? For now, the Center for Disease Control recommends providing hospital care as soon as possible to improve chances of recovery. At bottom, recovery really depends on the individual patient’s immune response. Hospital staff can treat symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, body aches, and fever with medication and IV fluids; infections must be treated immediately; and steady oxygen and blood pressure levels must be maintained. The only good news is that patients who recover develop Ebola-fighting antibodies that can last up to 10 years. For now there are no FDA-approved vaccines for Ebola; however, there are several experimental anti-viral drugs in development. Some of the following drugs have been used for patients of the current Ebola outbreak with varying results: ZMapp (made by Leaf Biopharmaceutical, Inc.), TKM-Ebola (Tekmira), Brincidofovir (Chimreix) and AVI-6002 (Sarepta Therapeutics). The drugs are extremely expensive and in very short supply.
Although Ebola is extremely infectious, it is considered moderately contagious. It is very contagious because the tiniest amount (a single virus) can infect a person or mammal. It is moderately contagious because the virus particles, unlike a cold or flu, are not airborne and transmitted through the air. A human becomes infected when he or she comes in direct contact with bodily fluids (blood, saliva, urine, and feces) from an infected individual or objects that have been contaminated by that infected individual. Ebola is not transmissible if a previously infected individual is asymptomatic or fully recovered.
Ebola virus disease is caused by four of the five viruses of the genus Ebolavirus. The five virus species are named for the region where each was originally identified: Bundibugyo ebolavirus, Sudan ebolavirus, Taï Forest ebolavirus, Zaire ebolavirus, and Reston ebolavirus. This last virus, Reston ebolavirus, is lethal to monkeys but not humans.
Researchers from Harvard and the Broad Institute studying the latest West Africa outbreak of Ebola found more than 300 genetic markers that make the 2014 Ebola virus distinct from past strains of the virus. Sadly, five members of the research team died from Ebola before they published their findings.
How does the fatality rate of Ebola compare to other infectious diseases? Ebola is by far the most lethal — 2014 Ebola: 47%, Tuberculosis: 15%, Polio: 10%, SARSL 9.6%, Whooping Cough: 1%, Measles: 0.2%, and Swine flu: 0.02%
For further reading: Racing Ebola: What the World Needs to do to Stop the Deadly Virus by Aryn Baker, Time Magazine (October 13, 2014).
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ebola_virus; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ebolavirus; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ebola_virus_epidemic_in_West_Africa