Emerged in a Zairean river in the mid-1970s, the Ebola virus is one of the world’s deadliest. Learn how it is transmitted, what its symptoms are, and, above all, how to treat and prevent it.
Ebola is a viral infectious disease that causes hemorrhagic fever in humans caused by the Ebola virus, which was first described in 1976 by Dr. David Finkes when presented several cases of hemorrhagic fever in Zaire and Sudan. The name of the virus is due to the Ebola River, geographically located in Zaire.
The Ebola virus is one of two family members of RNA (ribonucleic acid) viruses called Filoviridae. There are five serotypes of the Ebola virus: Ebola-Zaire, Ebola-Sudan, Ebola-Ivory Coast, and Ebola-Bundibugyo.
Timeline of Ebola and the current outbreak in Africa
Countries like Sudan and Zaire registered outbreaks in 1976, with 284 cases and 151 deaths, and 318 cases with 280 deaths. England for that same year registered a single point without deaths; in 1979, a new outbreak occurred in Sudan with 34 cases and 22 deaths. Towards the 90s, cases were presented in the Philippines (three), Virginia, and Texas (four); Likewise, during the years 1994 to 2000, Gabon registered the highest number of cases, with more than 350 infected people and around 280 deaths.
In 2007 Uganda registered a new outbreak of hemorrhagic fever due to the Ebola virus, with 149 infected and 37 deaths. According to WHO data, this same country decreed in early October 2012 the end of the outbreak, which claimed the lives of 17 people.
In August 2014, the WHO recognized that the virus was out of control mainly due to its ease and speed in spreading, so everything possible was done at the regional and international level to prevent its spread to other borders. Likewise, it was discouraged to travel – except in cases of extreme necessity – to the areas of West Africa most affected by this outbreak.
In the last days of September, the first Ebola-infected patient was detected in the US, who traveled to Dallas (Texas) after being infected in Liberia and passing airport controls. On October 6, a nurse who had treated the two Spanish missionaries who died of Ebola in Madrid became the first person diagnosed with Ebola outside of Africa. And in March 2016, the WHO declared the end of this public health emergency, which closed with more than 11,000 deaths and around 28,000 infected people.
In August 2018, a new Ebola outbreak was triggered in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is considered the second deadliest in the history of this disease, because according to data collected by UNICEF on January 26, 2020, there were 3,299 confirmed cases of infection (almost 30% children), and 2,240 people had died from it.
On February 11, 2020, the director-general of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus, declared that only three cases had been reported in the last week and none in the previous three days, a very encouraging trend. However, until 42 days have elapsed, Without new cases, the epidemic could not be considered over.
How is the Ebola virus transmitted?
The Ebola virus is considered highly infectious due to its high mortality rate, the rapidity with which it causes death, and the remote areas where infections occur. Ebola is mainly transmitted to humans through contact with a live or dead infected host animal (monkeys, bats, antelopes). It is spread from person to person by contact with the blood, tissues, secretions, and body fluids of the infected subject and from contact with contaminated medical equipment, such as needles.
Ebola virus infections are acute, and there is no ‘carrier’ status. Because the virus’s natural reservoir is unknown, how the virus first appears in a human at the start of an outbreak has not yet been determined.
In most health centers in Africa, patients are cared for without a mask, gown, or gloves. Also, when the needles or syringes used may not be of the disposable type, if they become contaminated with the virus and then reused, many people can become infected.
If the person affected by the virus dies, the protocol indicates an autopsy cannot be performed due to the high prospect of contagion by the victim’s fluids, so they must be cremated.