For Your Health: Ebola Q and A


I hear jokes about Ebola, but what is it?

Ebola virus (EBOV) is categorized as a hemorrhagic fever. The strain that lead to this year’s outbreak is classified as Zaire ebolavirus, one of the four out of five Ebolaviruses that triggers the viral disease in humans. It causes the hemorrhaging, or severe bleeding of the body, and organ failure. The immune system takes a lot of damage as well; in the process, the number of thrombocytes – the the platelet cells responsible for blood clotting – rapidly drop to dangerously low levels. Eventually, if the patient doesn’t heal, the body cannot withstand the extensive blood loss.

What are the symptoms?

Early symptoms appear as a fever, headache, muscle aches, chills and weakness. As the disease progresses, the infected patient will experience vomiting, diarrhea that may contain blood, red eyes, a raised rash, coughing and chest pain, stomach pain, severe weight loss, and bruising. The one symptom that EBOV is known for is the internal and external hemorrhaging. The bleeding begins in the eyes, and follows to the ears and nose when the victim is close to death, usually 6-16 days after symptoms appear.

The only confirmed reports of Ebola in the Unites States are in Dallas, Texas and New York City. Of the eight cases, only one person has died (not to mention the thousands in Africa). What do I have to worry about?

EBOV is transferred from person to person through contact with bodily fluids, but it’s about as contagious as the common cold or flu. The most alarming characteristic of the virus, besides the internal bleeding, is that the incubation period is 21 days. This is the time it takes for symptoms of the virus to begin to appear. So, an infected person may go about their daily routinekissing their spouse, hugging their kids good bye for school, shaking hands with a coworkerfor nearly a month unaware and effectively spreading the virus. One could imagine just how big of a dilemma this is for health officials.

This disease has been around for a while. Why is it all of a sudden so popular?

The EBOV outbreak this year has been the largest in history with an increasing death toll and a dismal prognosis. In the countries hit the hardest by the virus – Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone – the number of deaths has risen over 10,000.

“Trade has diminished because of the Ebola and resources are very scarce,” said Lami Kawah, the past representative of Liberia to the United Nations. “We need a tremendous amount of support. I cannot quantify the amount.” The infrastructure of Liberia had suffered critically after a period of civil unrest 1999-2005 resulting in a nearly dormant economy.

“We do not have the hospital facilities to deal with the crisis; its overwhelming,” he continues. “The United States, China, and Cuba have stepped up to help including WHO, the World Health Organization.”

In Liberia, 90,000 people are estimated to get EBOV by mid-December. In total of all three countries, 1.4 million people are estimated to contract the illness by January. These figures show that the window of opportunity for suppressing the virus and preventing it from spreading is rapidly coming to a close. Kawah believes that the external assistance will minimize the problem.

“All of the developed countries do not want [Ebola] to come to their shores,” he finally commented. “This is why I think the international community will make every effort to make sure the Ebola crisis is dealt with.”