On March 21st 2014, the Ebola virus finally got the attention of the world. This virus is responsible for the hemorrhagic fever that killed inhabitants of several villages and towns in West Africa (Dixon & Schafer, 2014). The natural reservoir of the virus is a variety of wild animals such as the fruit bat, the monkey, and the wood antelope. Additionally, the virus transmits itself through direct contact with biological fluids (i.e. blood, urine, sweat, semen, breast milk, etc.) of an infected person. Those who are most at risk are health care workers, family members and guests who attend funerals where the deceased are buried (WHO, 2014). Ebola is diagnosed through the detection of RNA or antibody of Ebola virus in the blood (Dixon & Schafer, 2014).
The time between the infection and the onset of symptoms (incubation), may range from two to twenty-one days. Symptoms include a fever accompanied by fatigue, muscle aches, headache, sore throat, vomiting, diarrhea, and sometimes internal and external bleeding. These are similar to other infectious diseases such as malaria, typhoid fever, and meningitis. The best treatment is rehydration and control of symptoms seeing as no current medication completely cures the disease. There is also currently no vaccine against the Ebola virus, however, two potential options are currently being analyzed (WHO, 2014).
The first case of the Ebola disease occurred in 1976 in Yambuku (Democratic Republic of Congo) near the Ebola River, where its name is derived, and Nzara, Sudan. Mortality rates from previous outbreaks range from 25-90% (WHO, 2014). The number of reported cases were confined to rural areas until recently where the virus first appeared in the urban areas of West Africa including Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria and in Senegal. This recent epidemic is the most devastating with a death rate of about 50% causing 3091 deaths in a few months (CDC, 2014).
A study by Polonsky et al. (2014) explained the increase in cases of Ebola within Uganda. Three scenarios have been proposed:
- the increase is an illusion due to strong surveillance,
- the increase is real and is due to the strengthening of hunting activities or mining operations in Uganda
- the increase is real and is due to external factors outside of Uganda (this predicts a possible outbreak in other countries as observed in West Africa).
The outbreak in 2014 is difficult to control for three main reasons (Dixon & Schafer, 2014):
- It covers a larger area.
- It affects areas that are in deficit of human resources and health infrastructure
- Communities at risk are afraid of the unknown and resist prevention methods.
All these reasons have pushed the director general of the WHO to declare an international public health emergency. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, no cases have been reported in Canada even though the disease has been under surveillance since 2000. Furthermore, Canada contributes to the fight against the virus in West Africa by donating experimental vaccines (PHAC, 2014).
The World Health Organization has set up temporary guides to mobilize communities at risk and control the spread of the virus. The number of new cases is rising but the disease is closely monitored through mobile laboratories. Should we send more workers who are skilled and prepared for this situation knowing that the precarious health system puts them at additional risk of infection? One thing is certain: if nothing is done, the virus could very well spread further.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2014). Flambée de la maladie à virus Ébola en Afrique de l’Ouest en 2014. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/french/2014-west-africa/index.html
Dixon G. M., & Schafer I.J. (2014). Ebola Viral Disease Outbreak-West Africa, 2014. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) 63(25); 548-551. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrived from http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6325a4.htm
World Health Organisation (2014). Maladie à virus Ébola, aide-mémoire 103. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs103/fr/
Polonsky, J. A., Wamala, J. F., Clerck, H. d., Herp, M. V., Sprecher, A., Porten, K., et al. (2014). Emerging Filoviral Disease in Uganda: Proposed Explanations and Research Directions. The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 90(5), 790-793. doi: 10.4269/ajtmh.13-0374
Public Health Agency of Canada (2014). Maladie à virus Ébola. Retrieved from http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/id-mi/vhf-fvh/ebola-fra.php
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