The West Africa Ebola outbreak has claimed more than 670 lives so far, spreading into four countries. Its forest fire-like, rapidly-spreading nature, according to Stephan Monroe, deputy director of the C.D.C.'s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, makes it a relentless virus. And, like forest fires, the outbreak can be "reseeded," sparking onto a new patient and ravaging a new region, as long as more victims are available for contact. And despite international efforts, the fire's been hard to put out. Susan Rice, President Obama's national security adviser, told Reuters the epidemic is "very worrying." In the meantime, she said, the U.S. will remain "very much present and active in trying to help the countries of the region and the international authorities like the World Health Organization address and contain this threat." Ebola has no treatment, no vaccine, and a fatality rate of up to 90 percent. Since its discovery in 1976, it has claimed more than 2,000 deaths out of its reported 3,140 cases, with the current version of the virus originally found in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo).
What is Ebola
Ebola virus disease, formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, is described by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as "a severe, often fatal illness in humans. It first appeared in 1976 in two simultaneous outbreaks - in Nzara, Sudan; and in Yambuku, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The latter was in a village situated near the Ebola River, from which the disease takes its name. It is mainly found in tropical Central and West Africa, and can have a 90 per cent mortality rate - although it is now at about 60 per cent.
How is it transmitted
The virus is known to live in fruit bats, and normally affects people living in or near tropical rainforests. It is introduced into the human population through close contact with the sweat, blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals such as chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines found ill or dead or in the rainforest. The virus then spreads in the community through human-to-human transmission, with infection resulting from direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) and indirect contact with environments contaminated with such fluids. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the disease is not contagious until a person begins to show symptoms. A big problem in West Africa is that burial ceremonies, in which mourners have direct contact with the body of the deceased person, can increase the spread of the disease because a person can transmit the virus even after death. Men who have recovered from the disease can still transmit the virus through their semen for up to seven weeks after recovery from illness.
What does it do to the body
Symptoms begin with fever, muscle pain and a sore throat, then rapidly escalate to vomiting, diarrhoea and internal and external bleeding. The incubation period, that is, the time interval from infection with the virus to onset of symptoms, is from two to 21 days. Health workers are at serious risk of contracting the disease - two American doctors have already contracted it, and a Liberian medic has died.Early treatment improves a patient's chances of survival.
How is it treated
There is currently no vaccine or cure, and testing to confirm the virus must be done with the highest level of biohazard protection. Severely ill patients require intensive supportive. Patients are frequently dehydrated and require oral rehydration with solutions containing electrolytes or intravenous fluids. A significant problem with the current outbreak is families lose faith in Western medicine, which cannot yet cure the patients. They then take them home to traditional village healers, which often leads the disease to spread.