Ebola rears its scary head again. Last week we were smacked with the news that there’s a fresh outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The DRC government confirmed the outbreak on May 8, 2018 – 21 suspected cases and 17 deaths over the last five weeks.
The good news is that the DRC, the place where the Ebola virus was first discovered in 1976 has gotten quite good at containing outbreaks of the virus. The bad news is that this current outbreak is in an area close to the Congo River, near the border with the neighboring Republic of the Congo. It’s a major trade route and so increases the chances that the outbreak may spread.
How widespread are Ebola outbreaks?
The last outbreak of Ebola in the DRC was in 2017 and was quickly brought under control by the rapid joint response of the government, the WHO and other agencies. The truth is that massive outbreaks such as the one in West Africa between 2014 and 2016 which infected 28,000 people and 11,000 died are an unusual occurrence. Most Ebola outbreaks affect only small numbers of people and are usually around the Congo.
Ebola virus disease is a serious, acute illness that is fatal if untreated – about 50% of people who have EVD die.
The difficulty with the diagnosis of Ebola is that we live in an area where several other diseases common to the region have similar early symptoms – fever, joint and muscle ache, lack of appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea. Doctors usually test to rule out other diseases like malaria, typhoid, or cholera.
A refresher on Ebola
As unlikely as it is that the DRC outbreak will spread to West Africa, air travel and porous borders make the spread of any disease possible. Here’s a quick refresher on the crucial things to know and do to prevent getting Ebola.
- Ebola is a highly deadly disease with no cure.
- Ebola spreads through direct contact with the skin and bodily fluids of an infected person or animal (fruit bats, monkeys, chimps) Bodily fluids include blood, urine, vomit, saliva, sweat, feces, breast milk, and semen. Other ways to get Ebola are by touching contaminated needles, contaminated medical equipment or surfaces.
- Ebola symptoms include fever, severe headache, joint and muscle aches, vomiting, diarrhea, rash, and stomach pain. Bleeding externally from the eyes, ears, and nose is not typical and occurs late in the illness.
- A person who has Ebola but has no symptoms yet cannot spread the disease.
To protect yourself from Ebola:
- DO wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Do NOT touch the blood or bodily fluids (like urine, feces, saliva, vomit, sweat, breast milk and semen) of people who are sick.
- Do NOT handle items that may have come into contact with a sick person’s blood or body fluids, like clothes, bedding, needles, or medical equipment.
- Do NOT touch the body of someone who has died of Ebola.
- Do NOT eat bush meat especially bats, monkeys, chimpanzees.