By Mayank Jain:
The man alighting from the airplane at the Nigerian airport probably looked no different than others. Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian citizen might have been coughing or sneezing a bit but that wasn’t a good enough indicator of the havoc that was eating up his body from inside; Ebola virus disease. The infamous epidemic has come back to haunt countries of West Africa, this time with a furthered intensity and potential of crossing international borders and killing people outside the continent too.
Patrick Sawyer was tested positive for the lethal virus in the city of Lagos, Nigeria. It marked the arrival of the disease to the country. He was on a flight with almost 100 people who are being tracked right now. They need to be isolated from any contact before the virus spreads to anyone in the densely populated capital of Nigeria with over 21 million people on the streets.
The current ongoing outbreak of the virus began in Sierra Leone just 4 months back in March and since then it has spread across 3 more countries. The virus has reached and claimed lives in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and most recently, Nigeria. The death toll is one of the highest ever seen. The outbreak is the most severe in recorded history.
Over 1323 suspected cases have been recorded and the death toll has climbed up to 729Â as of 29th July, 2014, which is substantially higher than previous outbreaks. It is of importance to note that the first outbreak of the virus was recorded in 1976 simultaneously in Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo.
The first outbreak in Congo was in a village near the Ebola River and hence, the name of the disease.
The Silent Killer
The disease which appears to be an innocuous fever/flu infection at first, gradually develops in the body of the infected and turns deadly within a span of 2 days to 3 weeks. The infection is commonly mistaken for malaria or typhoid but symptoms like vomiting, diarrhoea and bleeding from the eyes and mouth aggravate quickly; the patient develops boils on the skin and the internal organs begin to shut down.
According to WHO, the viral illness reduces platelets and white blood cells in the body and elevates liver enzymes. The infection can last for a long time in the body and Ebola virus was once discovered in a man’sÂ semen 61 days after the onset of the illness.
The Bad News: It might be in the cough of your co-passenger
The virus can be induced into the human body through multiple routes. Common ones include the blood, secretions, organs and other bodily fluids of those infected. The disease in Africa is said to be spread through monkeys (a popular choice for meat) and fruit bats which can carry the virus without getting infected themselves.
Monkeys share almost 99% of their DNA with humans and hence, the ability of contracting infection from them is exponentially higher than other animals. Once a person is infected, the virus then thrives on human to human contact and spreads through hospitals, health care workers and even the mourners of those who died from the infection.
The virus can’t be easily eliminated from the body even after the disease has gone and hence the phrase ‘deadly sperm’ has appended itself to the disease. Even after recovery, the disease can still transmit the virus through the semen of those infected for up to 7 weeks. Complete sterilization from the disease hence, is a long drawn process and isolation is one of the most crucial ways to stop it from spreading.
During the first outbreak, the infection claimed a reported total of 280 lives from Congo itself with a mortality rate of 88%. The mortality rate usually hovered between 75-100% in further outbreaks in the continent and rarely went below 60%. The current outbreak is similarly high on death toll.
Doctors have estimated the current mortality rate to be around 70% at least, which makes it a highly dangerous killer if it spreads to other parts of the continent or the world. Containing the disease is the only option since no specific cure is available yet.
What Can Be Done
Multiple vaccines are under trials to contain the virus but none of those have made it to the ground yet. The disease usually spreads from animals and hence, proper cleaning procedures of pig and monkey farms can be carried outÂ Â to inactivate the virus.
The most important part is reducing human-to-human infection which can result by coming in contact with an infected person from the regions where the virus has already spread. Airports and the international community have a large role to play here. Isolation of those who seem sick and denying permission to board air planes for those who are infected, could help limit the spread of this virus.
In the end, talking about it, spreading awareness and building pressure on the international community of health professionals, organizations and governments to do their best to provide relief and rescue are the best ways to help while we wait for the cure to arrive from a laboratory somewhere.
To know more about this story and what I think, follow me on Twitter atÂ @mayank1029