Western Africa has been dealing with an Ebola epidemic since the turn of the year and, with the death toll continuing to rise in certain countries, a small wave of panic is emerging throughout the globe.
With people understandably perturbed, let’s take a look at what the Ebola virus is, its symptoms and measures to prevent it, as well as analysing the West African epidemic and whether there is a threat to the UK of an Ebola outbreak.
What is Ebola?
Ebola, or EVD (Ebola Virus Disease) and EHF (Ebola Haemorrhaging Fever), is a viral disease that can be contracted among humans and primates. The symptoms of the virus begin to affect people, on average, two or three days after contracting it, and they include fatigue, muscular and abdominal pains, vomiting, diarrhoea and rashes. Following this, internal organs can begin to decrease in functionality and, if left untreated, it can lead to external bleeding, internal haemorrhaging and possible death.
The 2014 Ebola outbreak
This year has seen an Ebola epidemic spread across Western Africa. It is believed to have started off in Guinea towards the end of December 2013. Since then, the virus has spread across to neighbouring countries Sierra Leone, Senegal, Liberia and Nigeria. Some medics have labelled the outbreak as the worst and most severe since it was first discovered in 1976.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and other leading organisations have reported figures of 6,405 suspected cases and 2,984 deaths as of Monday, September 22, 2014.
Approximately 15 cases have spread across to Europe and the United States, resulting in one death in Spain. All 15 cases have origins to the West African countries in which the Ebola virus is at large, including a case in the UK where a nurse who was evacuated from Sierra Leone was infected. This patient has now been treated at a London hospital and has recovered in the UK.
What is being done to combat the epidemic?
There is no known cure for Ebola, but there are a series of experimental drugs being tested with numerous patients across the globe, although none of these are being used in the epicentres of the epidemic. The use of these drugs on infected people is argued to be unethical by some, and is one of the reasons why it has not reached West Africa at this time.
Research is ongoing to try and find an effective immunisation for humans to prevent the disease. It is believed that some researchers are close to finding a suitable vaccination, known as the NIAID/GSK vaccine. If successfully tested on chimpanzees, this will be fast-tracked to West Africa.
To combat the epidemic, numerous countries around the globe are sending medical supplies and charity relief to assist those in infected countries, as well as large amounts of money to groups involved in research studies and charitable projects.
Is it likely to come to the UK?
Although there is has been a case of a British citizen contracting the virus, the threat to the UK remains minimal. This is because the virus can not appear on its own; it would need to be transmitted by someone who has come into contact with the disease and become infected. One reason why it is unlikely to come to the UK is because countries are containing the disease. For example, the majority of cases in Nigeria, and the one case in Senegal, have kept the carriers of the virus under isolation for a period of time until medical examiners are convinced that they are free from the illness. It is prevention measures such as this that have stopped the spread from turning into a worldwide epidemic.
The only way that the virus is likely to enter the UK is through an already infected person entering the country and transmitting the disease to close contacts.
What can I do to prevent it?
As the threat is minimal, there is no need to prevent it, though good hygiene and regular hand washing are always recommended as summer turns to autumn and diseases become rifer. As there are no known prevention measures in place, if you have come into contact with someone who has been a West African country, you should seek out medical help in which tests will be conducted to complete an accurate diagnosis.
Alan Littler writes for CombatNorovirus.com, the website for Noroclear, which is the only cleaning product proven to combat norovirus and wipe out an extensive range of bugs within 60 seconds of application.