Ebola virus explained: History, causes, symptoms, treatment; all you need to know

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Published: June 2, 2020 5:41 PM

Did you know that Ebola virus was first discovered in 1976? Since then, the virus has been returning time and again with multiple outbreaks across the African continent.

The deadly virus is often transmitted to people from wild animals and then it can pass on human to human.

Ebola virus explained: Did you know that Ebola virus was first discovered in 1976? Since then, the virus has been returning time and again with multiple outbreaks across the African continent. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has defined it as a rare but a severe hemorrhagic fever that is fatal in humans. Here is a look at what causes it, its history, symptoms as well as its treatment.

What causes the transmission of the Ebola virus in humans?

The deadly virus is often transmitted to people from wild animals and then it can pass on human to human. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people were initially infected with Ebola virus upon coming in contact with an infected animal. The animals categorized by the CDC or WHO are usually nonhuman primates (monkey, apes) or fruit bats. Once it gets transmitted to humans, it can spread from person to another and can affect a thousands of people.

In humans, the virus can spread if a non-infected person comes in direct contact with blood or bodily fluids like saliva, breast milk, semen, urine, sweat of a person who is infected or has died because of the Ebola virus. Another way of transmission is coming in contact with objects used by an infected person, or just coming in contact with infected animals.

CDC has highlighted that even if the person has recovered from the Ebola virus disease (EVD), some viral residue is present in semen of a man which can further be passed on to its partner via any kind of physical intimacy.

History of Ebola Virus Disease

EVD has occurred multiple times in over the last four decades. First discovered in 1976, the disease broke out for two consecutive times in different parts of central Africa. CDC notes the first outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) near a river named Ebola and therefore, the virus is also named Ebola. The second outbreak took place somewhat 850 km away from DRC, which is now called South Sudan.

While it was first assumed that both of these outbreaks were caused one one infected person who travelled, it was later found out that the outbreak was caused by two viruses that had distinct genes and thus, were called Zaire ebolavirus and Sudan ebolavirus.

What is believed as per some viral and epidemiologic data, Ebola virus existed long before the outbreak was reported. With increase in population, direct interaction with wildlife and penetrating deep in the forest areas have led to exposure to this deadly virus which is now being transmitted.

WHO has termed the 2014–2016 outbreak in West Africa as the largest Ebola outbreak ever since it was first discovered. The outbreak which started in Guinea later on moved to Sierra Leone and Liberia. It further said that the latest 2018-2019 outbreak in eastern DRC has been highly complex. In 2014, Kerala also faced a threat of Ebola virus transmission as many people coming from infected areas in African subcontinent visited India.

What are symptoms of Ebola virus infection?

Person infected with Ebola virus has similar symptoms than that of malaria, typhoid fever or meningitis. Some symptoms are also common if a woman is pregnant and therefore, WHO has recommended rapid tests for Ebola if suspected. The incubation period for EVD is with the onset of symptoms within 2 to 21 days. Notably, an infected person cannot transmit the disease if the symptoms have not appeared.

The organization has said that sudden symptoms for EVD include fever, fatigue, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. These symptoms may be accompanied by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash and other symptoms of impaired liver and kidney function. In some cases, the virus can also cause bleeding from gums or presence of blood in stools.

How can Ebola be treated?

Reports by WHO suggested that there isn’t any proven treatment from EVD yet. However a range of potential treatments, immune therapies, drug therapies and supportive care like rehydration with oral or intravenous fluids are being practised. It has highlighted that pregnant and breastfeeding women if infected with Ebola virus should be offered early supportive care.

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