Hygiene is very important to prevent the disease from spreading. Foto: Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde
BACKGROUND: Disease patterns
The life-threatening disease Ebola has come into the focus of the world public by its current outbreak in West Africa. Starting in the small country Guinea, the disease has spread to the neighboring countries Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria and Senegal. According to data given by the World Health Organization (WHO) until September 2014, this biggest Ebola epidemic ever recorded had already caused 2,100 deaths and 4,000 infected persons. The estimated number of unreported cases might be much higher. The containment of the disease cases is not in sight.
But why is the whole world trembling with fear of Ebola? What makes this disease so dangerous? And why does it spread so fast? In the context of the humedica background series about frequently occurring disease patterns in developing and least developed countries, you are getting an overview on the topic Ebola.
The currently used abbreviation Ebola designates an infectious disease, caused by the Ebola virus and frequently mortal. It provokes a so-called hemorrhagic fever, that means it causes bleeding. The Ebola viruses are filamentary RNA viruses, which can proliferate in nearly all cells of the infected host.
The initial origin of the virus is not entirely clear, but it is supposed that fruit bats serve as a natural reservoir of pathogens. People get infected by infected animals and transmit the disease via bodily fluids and especially blood to other people.
The persons at high risk are medical staff and persons who have close contact to the ill person. Special funeral ceremonies, which demand the contact with the person who has died of Ebola, are also very risky. The more the illness is advanced, the more infectious it is.
Against this background, it is not astonishing that the Ebola epidemics in West Africa have predominantly appeared in regions with bad health care provision. Insufficient hospital hygiene and lacking protective clothing favor the transmission of Ebola. Moreover, many people don’t know about the disease and are afraid of any treatment.
As the symptoms are non-specific, an early diagnosis of Ebola is difficult. That is why there are great outbreaks of the disease again and again. In case of a precise suspicion the doctors can get certainty by examining the blood or tissue samples. In the early state of the illness, however, wrong test results are possible, that’s why probable patients should absolutely be isolated.
Amongst the first symptoms of Ebola there are a sudden fever, shivering, vomiting and diarrhea. From the fifth day of the illness, the patients suffer from external and internal bleeding, skin eruptions and kidney failure. About 50 to 80 percent of the Ebola cases end mortally.
As up to now no vaccination against Ebola exists, the only protection measure is to avoid direct contact with infected persons. The treatment of the ill persons should exclusively be carried out in isolated wards, because of the high risk of infection. And even if there is no causal treatment of Ebola, the doctors can treat the appearing symptoms and thus reduce the mortality rate. According to current assumptions, those who survive Ebola are immune to another infection.
Only few infected persons of the current Ebola epidemic in West Africa are so lucky. Already before the outbreak of the disease, the concerned countries Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone had suffered of a desperately bad health system. An adequate reaction to the epidemic was and still is impossible for these countries, because of their lack of resources.
At the request of the Liberian Ministry of Health, humedica has immediately initiated first help measures. Besides medical aid supplies, which have been sent by sea- and airfreight to West Africa, humedica also supports the country Liberia, which has been most concerned by Ebola, with the containment of the epidemic.
In collaboration with the American partner organization Medical Teams International (MTI), the staff working in the health sector has been comprehensively equipped with protective clothing and material. Moreover, the contact persons of Ebola patients are being visited and their state of health is being checked. If they show Ebola symptoms, they are immediately transported to isolated wards and treated.
Experts assume that the Ebola epidemic will still rage for months. Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon has sent an “international cry for help” to the international global community. Now it is essential to continue doing everything that is necessary, in order to win the fight against this deathly epidemic.
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The humedica help in Liberia is being supported by The German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, action medeor e.V., “Ein Herz für Kinder”, Medical Teams International (MTI), Flughafen München. We thank all institutional and private supporters very much.
This article contains information of the Gesundheitsportal Onmeda, Robert Koch Institut and DocCheck Medical Services GmbH.