Simply uttering the word Ebola is enough to cause a person to cringe, shudder, twitch, or perhaps even recoil in horror. Rightly so. Ebola hemorrhagic fever (Ebola HF), the result of an infection with one of the four identified sub-types of Ebola viruses known to affect humans, is gruesome. Ebola infection can result in a mortality rate as high as 90 percent of all infected individuals, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The real horror, though, comes when you know that no one is sure where Ebola can be found (until there’s an outbreak, of course); there are no vaccines and no treatments; and we’re still uncertain about how people are infected in the first place.
Well, I guess it was just a matter of time. You can’t go trouncing around third-world countries and not expect to bring back some form of souvenir. Unfortunately for us, a man in Dallas brought back the Ebola virus.
That’s right folks, we now have the first diagnosed Ebola case in the United States. Now that the virus is confirmed, the CDC needs to identify the people who have had contact with patient zero. I know what you’re thinking; could this be our Zombie Apocalypse? Ebola hit the international stage without warning and with dumbfounding devastation. In 1976, outbreaks in Zaire and Sudan resulted in 318 and 284 cases, with 280 and 151 deaths, respectively. Since 1976, sporadic outbreaks have occurred, ranging from a single case to a massive 425 cases in Uganda in 2000. Since 1976, well over 2,000 cases have been identified, with over 1,000 deaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), outbreaks have occurred in Uganda as recently as November 2012.
Ebola HF, named after a river where it was first recognized in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), is a disease that affects humans and non-human primates (monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees) that was first recognized in 1976. It’s a type of RNA virus known as Filoviridae. There are four sub-types of the virus that cause disease in humans: Ebola-Zaire, Ebola-Sudan, Ebola-Ivory Coast, and Ebola-Bundibugyo. A fifth type, Ebola-Reston, can cause disease in primates, but has not affected humans in the past.
All confirmed cases of Ebola HF in humans have occurred in African countries: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, the Ivory Coast, the Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and Uganda. The Ebola-Reston virus, dangerous to monkeys, was found in research laboratories in the United States, Italy, and the Philippines. While some researchers were also infected with this strain, they were asymptomatic.
The WHO thinks that the route of transmission is zoonotic, meaning the Ebola is spread from animal to human. Contact with infected primates, and interestingly enough, fruit bats and dead forest antelope or porcupines have been documented as ways the virus gets passed along to people. Once in a human host, transmission between humans can happen via blood, secretions, organs, or other bodily fluids. Scarier still is the fact that burial ceremonies of dead Ebola patients, healthcare worker interaction with patients, and even semen passed up to seven weeks post-infection, can play all a role in transmission, too.
The incubation period—the time between infection and when a person has symptoms—is estimated to be between two and 21 days. Ebola HF is an acute-onset disease, meaning, it’ll happen fast, with immediate symptoms that can include joint pain, fever, chills, diarrhea, fatigue, headache, nausea, sore throat, and vomiting, according to the National Institutes of Health. As the disease progresses, the most severe symptoms—for which Ebola HF became infamous—begin to take their toll: bleeding from the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, rectum, and internal bleeding may occur. Depression, swollen eyes and genitals, painful skin, a red, inflamed roof of the mouth, and a hemorrhagic rash (containing blood) over the entire body characterize the most devastating symptoms.
When reports came in from Liberia describing Ebola victims rising from the dead, most of the world brushed it off as figments of people’s imagination, driven by the tragedies that have struck the area. But recent footage by ABC's Good Morning America suggests there may be a bit of truth to these zombie stories.
To the surprise of GMA's crew, a corpse they were filming sprung back to life moments before it was hauled into a truck on the way to the crematorium. The video is quickly going viral and giving the world a glimpse of just how bleak the situation in West Africa has become.
Dr. Richard Besser, ABC’s chief health and medical editor, who is currently working in Liberia, says Monrovia is currently a city where “if you die from Ebola, they are very quick for you. If you’re living and you need help, there’s really nowhere to go.” The doctor and his camera crew were able to witness this sad truth firsthand when they came across the “corpse” of a dead man on the side of a busy city road,
It is difficult to pin down preventative measures when the exact location and mode of transmission are unknown. For now, the best advice available, echoed by the CDC, WHO, and others, is to avoid endemic areas in times of outbreaks altogether. Since there’s no treatment for Ebola HF the most that can be done for a patient is what’s called “supported therapy,” which entails balancing fluids and electrolytes, blood pressure, oxygen, and monitoring for other infections.
A recent study in the journal Chemistry and Biology found potential for a treatment and cure, in a compound that can block viral RNA synthesis, among other things. The research showed that sometimes the scientists could prevent the Ebola virus (and others) from proliferating by using a compound known as CMLDBU3402. It will be important to see if anyone else can repeat these results and potentially develop treatment for Ebola and other deadly RNA viruses.
6 Things You Might Not Know About Ebola
1. IT’S NOT EVEN ALIVE.
2. THIS IS NOT THE FIRST U.S. OUTBREAK.
3. IT HAS A MILITARY MINDSET FOR INVASION.
4. NO ONE KNOWS HOW IT CAME TO INFECT PEOPLE.
5. GUMSHOE DETECTIVE WORK IS THE ONLY WAY TO STOP AN OUTBREAK.
6. YOU CAN ORDER IT FROM A CATALOG.