The Ebola virus causes an acute, serious illness which is often fatal if untreated. Ebola virus disease (EVD) first appeared in 1976 in 2 simultaneous outbreaks, one in what is now, Nzara, South Sudan, and the other in Yambuku, Democratic Republic of Congo. The latter occurred in a village near the Ebola River, from which the disease takes its name.
The 2014–2016 outbreak in West Africa was the largest and most complex Ebola outbreak since the virus was first discovered in 1976. There were more cases and deaths in this outbreak than all others combined. It also spread between countries, starting in Guinea then moving across land borders to Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Ebola is introduced into the human population through close contact with the 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.
Ebola then spreads through human-to-human transmission via direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and with surfaces and materials (e.g. bedding, clothing) contaminated with these fluids.
Health-care workers have frequently been infected while treating patients with suspected or confirmed EVD. This has occurred through close contact with patients when infection control precautions are not strictly practiced.
Burial ceremonies that involve direct contact with the body of the deceased can also contribute to the transmission of Ebola.
People remain infectious as long as their blood contains the virus.
The incubation period, that is, the time interval from infection with the virus to onset of symptoms is 2 to 21 days. Humans are not infectious until they develop symptoms. First symptoms are the sudden onset of fever fatigue, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, symptoms of impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding (e.g. oozing from the gums, blood in the stools). Laboratory findings include low white blood cell and platelet counts and elevated liver enzymes.
Ebola virus is known to persist in immune-privileged sites in some people who have recovered from Ebola virus disease. These sites include the testicles, the inside of the eye, and the central nervous system. In women who have been infected while pregnant, the virus persists in the placenta, amniotic fluid, and fetus. In women who have been infected while breastfeeding, the virus may persist in breast milk.
Studies of viral persistence indicate that in a small percentage of survivors, some body fluids may test positive on reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) for Ebola virus for longer than 9 months.
Relapse-symptomatic illness in someone who has recovered from EVD due to increased replication of the virus in a specific site is a rare event but has been documented. Reasons for this phenomenon are not yet fully understood.
Supportive care-rehydration with oral or intravenous fluids- and treatment of specific symptoms improves survival. There is as yet no proven treatment available for EVD. However, a range of potential treatments including blood products, immune therapies, and drug therapies are currently being evaluated.
Good outbreak control relies on applying a package of interventions, namely case management, surveillance and contact tracing, a good laboratory service, safe burials and social mobilization. Community engagement is key to successfully controlling outbreaks. Raising awareness of risk factors for Ebola infection and protective measures (including vaccination) that individuals can take is an effective way to reduce human transmission. Risk reduction messaging should focus on several factors:
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