What does Samaritan’s Purse missionary doctor Kent Brantly have in common with Richard Sacra, a doctor from Massachusetts? These physicians, along with thousands of West Africans, have all been diagnosed with Ebola in the current outbreak.
Ebola virus disease is a member of the filovirus family, a group of viruses characterized by their hemorrhagic qualities, meaning that they cause both severe internal and external bleeding in those who are infected. While Ebola is not an airborne virus, it spreads from person to person via secretion of blood and bodily fluids, as well as through contact with objects that have been used to treat someone who is contaminated.
Its incubation period, or the amount of time it takes for symptoms to become apparent after infection, can be anywhere from two to 21 days, but is typically within the range of eight to 10 days. Besides bleeding, symptoms of Ebola include a high fever, muscle pain and weakness, sore throat, headache, stomach pains, diarrhea, and vomiting.
Ebola was first identified in 1976 when outbreaks occurred in both the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan. The outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was not far from the Ebola River, from which the name of the virus stems. Outbreaks of Ebola commonly occur in West Africa and Central Africa.
There is a theory that fruit bats are natural carriers of the Ebola virus, and when a person consumes the meat of an infected bat, Ebola is contracted. This is a possible explanation as to why Ebola outbreaks are often found near tropical rainforests, the natural habitat of these fruit bats.
In March 2014, deaths in West Africa’s Guinea were attributed to Ebola, and within the month, it was also confirmed as the cause of deaths in Liberia, marking the start of the current Ebola outbreak. In April, the World Health Organization mobilized medical teams in West African countries to combat and contain the virus. Sierra Leone confirmed cases of Ebola in late May, and began to control traveling to avoid spread.
The World Health Organization confirmed in June that the 2014 Ebola outbreak is the worst in history, as there had been a 60 percent increase over a span of just two weeks. However, it was also admitted that energies to control Ebola’s spread had been less stringent.
In late July, Ebola was confirmed to be in Nigeria, which has the highest population of any African country. Nigeria responded by stopping all flights to and from Sierra Leone and Liberia’s capitals on Arik, their major airline, and ASKY, a pan-African airline, followed suit.
Liberia then shut down its schools and granted all government workers deemed not vital a leave of 30 days. A state of emergency was declared in Sierra Leone, and the United States and various European countries issued warnings against travel to Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria.
Up until now, there have been around 1,500 deaths as a result of infection from the Ebola virus. The death total of the current outbreak has already surpassed that number, and is still increasing. It was announced in August that an emergency response of $100 million would be introduced in efforts to take care of the issue, with the money for the initiative to come from the World Health Organization and leaders of Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, the countries that have been impacted most by Ebola.