Guinea Ebola outbreak believed to be deadly Zaire strain
Ebola. The very word can strike fear, and for good reason. The fatality rate from some strains of Ebola can be as high as 90 percent. In some ways, this intense lethality is a benefit, as victims often die before they can transmit the disease beyond the immediate environment. Ebola is spread via contact with bodily fluids of an infected person or a wild animal. This can include diarrhea, vomiting, and bleeding, as well possibly oral exposure (saliva) and through conjunctiva (tears).
Historically limited to the equatorial region, the spread of Ebola to western Africa
represents a serious threat to nations with poor healthcare infrastructure. Many of the procedures viewed as routine in the developed world – universal precautions, personal protective equipment (PPE), routine sterilization, and single use of surgical implements or hypodermic needles – are expensive luxuries in Sub-Saharan Africa. There are no approved vaccines or treatments for Ebola, so curtailing the outbreak and reinforcing preventive measures is critical.
Although the transmission of Ebola through bodily fluids would likely limit exposure to business travelers or tourists, the virulence of the virus is such that anyone who has been in an outbreak area should be mindful of the signs and symptoms of the disease.
Ebola sickness begins with influenza-like symptoms: malaise, fever with chills, joint pain, muscle pain, and chest pain. As the disease progresses, nausea is accompanied by abdominal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting. Other symptoms include sore throat, cough, shortness of breath, and hiccups. Severe headaches, agitation, confusion, fatigue, depression, seizures, and coma can follow. Ebola can manifest between 8 and 25 days following exposure.
As with most communicable diseases, the key to prevention is awareness. Have you been in an area where the disease has been reported? Do you protect yourself from exposure to bodily fluids? If you may have been exposed, do you have any symptoms? In 1597, Francis Bacon wrote that “knowledge is power.” That adage applies to this frightening outbreak.