With the recent news that a second health care worker has contracted the Ebola virus at a Dallas hospital while tending to the Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan, fears of Ebola are now magnifying. Are these fears justified? Before you reach for your hazmat suit, let us look at the facts.
A Brief History of the Ebola Virus
Named after the Ebola River in Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo), Ebola was first discovered in 1976. The first outbreak infected 300 people. There are different strains of the virus ranging from Ebola-Zaire (EBOZ), Ebola Reston (EBOR), and Ebola Cote d-Ivoire (EBO-CI). Although Ebola’s natural reservoir has not been identified directly, it has been theorized that it might be apes, monkeys, fruit bats or a combination thereof. Scientists now believe that apes catch it from eating food on which bats have left bodily fluids, such as saliva, or by coming into contact with surfaces covered in the bodily fluids of infected bats. According to Doctors Without Borders, the current 2014 outbreak seems to have started in a village near Guéckédou, Guinea, where the hunting and consumption of bats is common.
Mechanisms of the Ebola virus
The Ebola virus infects cells by injecting its viral RNA into the host cell. Once in the host cell, the Ebola virus makes more copies of the itself, which, in turn, infect other cells. This is a mechanism that many viruses utilize to infect their host. To better understand this concept, imagine the way a person commits identity theft. A hacker will take over one person’s email account and use that account to break down the barriers of other accounts.
How contagious is the Ebola Virus?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a person infected with Ebola can only spread the disease when symptoms appear. This is usually called the incubation period. For Ebola, this period is 2-21 days on average.
Although there are currently no drugs or vaccines approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat or prevent Ebola, there have been signs of hope. Dr. Kent Brantly donated his plasma to Dallas nurse Nina Phama who was infected when treating Thomas Eric Duncan. The plasma includes antibodies and may help a patient’s resistance to the virus. Dr. Kent Brantly also donated plasma to the first Ebola patient treated in Omaha, Dr. Rick Sacra, who has recovered from the disease.
In order to avoid infection, one must avoid direct contact (either through broken skin or through eyes, nose, or mouth) with anyone that is showing symptoms of severe headache, muscle pain, vomiting, stomach pain and/or unexplained bleeding. Also, one should practice careful hygiene by washing their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. One thing to keep in mind is that the Ebola virus does not transmit through the air like the flu. The virus can also be easily killed on surfaces utilizing bleach and alcohol-based products.
What is being done to prevent the spread of the Ebola Virus?
There are numerous resources and organizations which are devoted to maintaining active surveillance on the Ebola virus and supporting at-risk countries to develop preparedness plans that could limit further spread. The CDC and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) are working with U.S. government agencies, the World Health Organization (WHO), and other domestic and international partners to contain the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa and prepare for possible outbreaks in other countries.
Local departments of health, such as the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH), are sending out memos to all healthcare staff in large and small organizations that outline how to report Ebola on a timely basis, how to identify symptoms and ask for travel history, and how to protect themselves and patients from contracting and spreading of the virus.
The CDC as well as state health authorities are also closely monitoring all persons that have come into contact with confirmed Ebola cases.
Healthcare organization across the Unites States are also preparing by assembling teams to combat further spread of the virus. One example is The Mount Sinai Health System in New York, which is in the process of creating an Ebola SWAT team that can respond immediately to any of its facilities. The team of infectious-disease experts will help with the intake process of any patient that might be infected with the virus. This also includes setting up protocols designed to keep a patient in isolation prior to the team’s arrival.
According to the American Medical Association (AMA) the CDC is also establishing an Ebola response team that will be dispatched to any hospital in the country that has a confirmed case of Ebola. The team will include experts in infection control, laboratory science, personal protective equipment and management of Ebola units.
Although a deadly disease, the average person should not fear catching Ebola. Unlike the flu virus that can spread around the world in a few days or weeks, the mode of transmission of Ebola causes localized outbreaks that can usually be contained.
Further information on Ebola can be found on:
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