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Truths about Ebola virus disease

This week, the country was on high alert after a suspected case of Ebola was reported in Kericho.The patient, however, tested  negative and Health CS Sicily Kariuki confirmed that Kenya remains free of the deadly virus. While concerns about this highly-infectious disease have resurfaced, there’s a lot of misinformation about it

1. Highly misdiagnosed

Ebola virus is a severe acute viral disease often mistaken as malaria, typhoid fever, shigellosis, cholera, leptospirosis, plague, rickettsiosis, relapsing fever, meningitis, hepatitis and other hemorrhagic fevers. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that these diseases be ruled out before diagnosis of Ebola virus.

2. Early symptoms

Early symptoms of Ebola mimic other illnesses. They include: fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, weakness, diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach pain, lack of appetite. Other symptoms include: rash, red eyes, hiccups, cough, sore throat, chest pain, difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing, external and internal bleeding.

3. Incubation period

The incubation period (time from exposure to infection or apparent symptoms) is two to 21 days, but eight to 10 days is most common.

4. It is not contagious during incubation period

This is the time between infection and when symptoms first appear. Patients do not transmit it until they develop symptoms. Therefore, Ebola is not transmissible if someone is asymptomatic and usually not after someone has recovered from it.

5. It is a fatal disease

According to WHO, the average death rate for Ebola is about 50 per cent, but this number can range from 25 to 90 per cent, depending on the outbreak. Scientists aren’t exactly sure why some people survive the disease, while others don’t. Early supportive care may be one way to improve one’s chances of survival.

6. It has no cure, but…

While there’s no therapy approved to cure Ebola, several experimental options are being studied. Currently, the standard treatment is something called “supportive care.” This involves giving patients extra fluids and oxygen, maintaining blood pressure levels, replacing lost blood, and treating other infections.

Using oral medicines to reduce fluid loss from vomiting and diarrhoea is crucial. Other therapies are being looked at to help the disease, including blood transfusions from survivors and mechanical filtering of blood from patients.

7. It is an animal-borne disease

While the exact cause of Ebola isn’t known, experts believe the virus is animal-borne, with fruit bats being the suspected hosts. Bats that carry the virus can transmit it to other animals.

Ebola is introduced to humans through close contact with the blood, secretions, or organs of infected animals, such as fruit bats, gorillas, chimpanzees, monkeys, forest antelope, or porcupines. Humans can also contract Ebola by eating or handling infected bushmeat — the meat of wild animals.

8. It is spread through contact

Once Ebola reaches the human population, it spreads via direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person. When someone touches these secretions, the virus can gain entry through broken skin or mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, or mouth.

It can be passed on through sexual contact and needle-sharing. Surfaces, materials, and objects may also harbour Ebola. Direct contact with a deceased body of someone who had Ebola is another way to contract the disease. People remain contagious as long as their blood contains the virus.

9. More care for health workers

Health workers treating Ebola virus patients should wear protective clothing masks, gloves, gowns, and goggles; use infection-control measures such as complete equipment sterilisation and routine use of disinfectant. Infected patients should be isolated to minimise contact with unprotected patients to protect themselves from contracting the virus.

10. It has been around for four decades

According to the WHO, the virus first appeared in 1976 in two simultaneous outbreaks in Sudan and in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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