What is the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD)?
Ebola hemorrhagic fever, now called Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) is considered a bio-safety level IV agent, the most dangerous agent known to man. Bats are known carriers of Ebola and have likely played a role in the critically endangered state of our oldest living relative–the great ape. Ebola is spread through the blood or bodily fluids of infected individuals. The 2014 Ebola outbreak is thought to have stemmed from a 2 year old child in southeastern Guinea who played in a tree where Ebola-infected bats lived; he died in December 2013.
Cases of Ebola have been around for quite some time. In fact, Ebola has its origins in ancient times, thousands of years ago when it split from different virus families. The CDC’s historical timeline lists a multitude of Ebola reported cases starting in 1976. Epidemiologists and scientists have long warned of further outbreaks.
Why has Ebola become so virulent now?
Viral mutations may play a large role. The most recent outbreak of Ebola in March of 2014 was the Zaire strain, one of the most virulent and pathological. The least virulent (Reston) has been identified in the Western Pacific. To date, infected persons are relatively asymptomatic and no human deaths have resulted from the Reston strain.
As of January 16, 2015, there have been more than 21,000 reported human cases of the Zaire strain. More than 8,400 of these cases have resulted in death. This is in stark contrast where Uganda in the early 2000’s reported 425 cases with reported deaths listed as 224. Until the current outbreak, the Uganda outbreak was the highest number of reported cases since 1976.
Endemic or Epidemic? What’s the difference?
An endemic is described as disease that is restricted to a certain geographic region or area. An epidemic describes disease that effect a large percent of the population all at once. This is the first time Ebola has been spread through air travel yet it remains what many have called an unprecedented epidemic. What most people today are probably concerned about is known as a pandemic. A pandemic is defined as the spread of disease over a large geographic region affecting a significant number of the population.
How worried should I be?
Ebola is less contagious than other infectious diseases, such as measles. NPR’s Michaeleen Doucleffe demonstrates how quickly sick individuals can infect others. For instance, for every one person infected with Ebola two others can catch the disease. However, in the case of measles, for every one person infected with measles 18 others could potentially contract the disease. These 18 individuals could infect many more in a population than Ebola could.
However, the mortality rate, or chances of dying when infected with Ebola is somewhere between 25 and 90%. Death typically ensues after massive fluid loss occurs (due to diarrhea, vomiting, and sometimes blood loss). No known cure exists for Ebola to date. The mainstay of treatment is supportive in nature and includes the use of intravenous fluids which has in fact helped save lives.
What is the future of Ebola?
Canada has had a long history of research in developing an Ebola vaccine. Human trials began this past October 2014 (VSV-ZEBOV vaccine) with phase III clinical trials occurring in West Africa, currently. More research is required for earlier detection, diagnosis (such as rapid point of care testing), and treatment protocols to further alleviate the symptoms of those afflicted with Ebola. Methods to anticipate and prevent the evolution and mutation of all Ebola strains are especially necessary in pigs, as they are the ideal host for virus mutations to occur.
What can I do?
Most people develop a sense of helplessness during disease outbreaks. Fear leads to irrational irrationality, while individuals try to find ways of regaining control of their and their family’s health and well being. This is especially the case during public health crises.
Educating yourself can help to alleviate some fears on public health threats. Ignorance is not always bliss. Rallying the efforts of local thought leaders and stakeholders to implement preparedness strategies as recommended by the CDC can help you feel more in control of your surroundings.
Community involvement in state and local public health preparedness initiatives can help influence policy makers to prioritize the appropriation of federal dollars for such causes. For more information on your state’s initiatives on public health preparedness, contact your elected government official. For other ways to help, click here.