The highly contagious Ebola virus has killed almost 11,300 people in West Africa since December 2013. Read on to find out more about the deadly virus.
Ebola was first identified in central Africa in 1976, and the tropical virus was named after a river in the Democratic Republic of Congo, then known as Zaire. Five species of the virus have been identified to date (Zaire, Sudan, Bundibugyo, Reston and Tai Forest). The Zaire strain is the most virulent with death rates that have reached 90% among humans. The death rate in the current epidemic of Ebola hemorrhagic fever is thought to be around 67% according to the World Health Organization (WHO), although experts concede that many deaths, especially early in the epidemic, may have slipped under the radar.
The Ebola virus' natural reservoir animal is probably the bat, which does not contract the disease itself. Chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines are also suspected of having transmitted the Ebola virus to humans. Only one certified contact with an animal has been recorded in the current outbreak, early on in Guinea. Ebola is transmitted by contact with body fluids such as blood, secretions or organs of an infected or recently deceased person, but not by air. Infected people do not become contagious until the symptoms appear. They then become more and more contagious until just after their death, which poses greater risks during funerals. Following an incubation period of between two to 21 days, Ebola develops into a high fever, weakness, intense muscle and joint pain, headaches and sore throats. This is often followed by vomiting and diarrhea, skin eruptions, kidney and liver failure, and internal and external bleeding.
The WHO has revealed that the world is on the verge of an effective Ebola vaccine after Canadian drug VSV-EZEBOV is found in clinical trials in Guinea to provide 100% protection from the disease. The drug, developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada and licensed to NewLink Genetics and Merck, may therefore become the first licensed vaccine against the highly contagious disease for which there is also no approved treatment or cure. Another candidate vaccine, by the British pharmaceutical group GlaxoSmithKline with the American Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), has been undergoing tests in Liberia since February, 2015. There is no approved drug treatment at present. A series of experimental treatments have nonetheless resulted in positive results among some patients. The best known treatment is ZMapp, a cocktail of three monoclonal (single cell) antibiotics developed through a Canadian/US partnership. Early results from an Ebola trial using Avigan (favipiravir) showed in February, 2015, that it was somewhat effective at saving lives if given early in the illness, but not later. In the absence of a confirmed vaccine or treatment, it is recommended that preventive measures be taken to stop the spread of Ebola, notably through hand-washing and using gel or alcohol-based disinfectants. It is recommended to maintain a distance of several meters (yards) from infected people or dead bodies, and healthcare providers must wear disposable protective clothing that includes masks and gloves. Infected sites must be disinfected.