Ebola Virus Disease: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

Ebola Virus disease (EVD) is a life threatening and contagious disease which is contracted by human beings as well as primates. It is a hemorrhagic fever; caused by ebolaviruses also known as “filoviruses” (they are from the virus family “filivoridae”). There are five viruses that are included in ebolaviruses, four of which infect human beings while the fifth infects other animals.

Two simultaneous outbreaks in 1976 marked the first appearance of this disease. One of those outbreaks was in Sudan, while the Democratic Republic of Congo was the other country to be affected. The first case that appeared in the Democratic Republic of Congo was near the Ebola River, and so the disease got named after this river.

The viruses that cause Ebola are initially transmitted to human beings by contact with an infected animal (the virus mostly affects fruit bats, monkeys and apes) after which the disease spreads from one individual to the other. Physical contact as well as exposure to the bodily fluids of an infected person can cause the disease to spread.

After eight to ten days of being infected by the virus some early signs and symptoms that may indicate the onset of the disease are fever, severe headache, muscular pain, chills, exhaustion and weakness. These symptoms are likely to become more pronounced over time. Other indicators which help diagnose Ebola are red and inflamed eyes (eyes may even bleed), raised rash, chest pain and cough, stomach aches, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, noticeable weight loss, and internal bleeding.

Since these symptoms are pretty similar to those of typhoid and malaria, it is not easy for a medical practitioner to diagnose EVD. Once a doctor is of the opinion that a patient has contracted this virus, two blood tests can confirm if the individual is infected or not, these are known as Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and Reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (PCR).

Medical specialists have thus far been unable to develop any vaccine or anti-viral drug for this fatal disease, but the World Health Organization is actively seeking a cure. In the mean time, healthcare providers are using some basic intervention methods in an attempt to save the lives of infected individuals. These include injecting intravenous fluids (IV), providing body salts (balancing electrolytes), ensuring constant oxygen supply and keeping blood pressure normal as well as stable. Immediate treatment should be given if the patient develops any other infections.

Preventive methods that can limit the disease from spreading are to isolate those who are infected, and ensure that medical care is given in a private ward so as keep other patients from contracting Ebola. Furthermore healthcare specialists should be very careful while disposing syringes and needles. They should wear gloves and face masks, and they should make sure that they themselves are not at risk by avoiding direct contact with the bodily fluids (e.g. blood) of an Ebola patient. Furthermore, the disease is also known to spread even after the death of the infected individual, so family and friends who are mourning the death of a loved one who had Ebola should avoid physical contact with the deceased, particularly his/her bodily fluids.