Ebola virus is one of the world’s most deadly diseases. It is a highly infectious virus that can kill up to 75 per cent of the people who catch it, causing terror among infected communaities. However, experts say a lot can be done to prevent contracting the infection, reports Sade Oguntola.
The news of the Ebola virus reaching the country is assuming an alarming pace since the first recorded incidence appeared in neighbouring West African countries of Guinea and Liberia. More worrisome is the fact that Ebola virus disease (EVD) is one of the deadliest viruses known to mankind, killing around two-thirds of those who contract the disease.
Health Minster, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu raised the alarm that the threat being posed by the Ebola virus was real and admitted that Nigeria was in danger with the rate at which the EVD had been moving eastward towards the country.
Ebola virus was first discovered in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire). The virus is named after the Ebola River where one of the first recorded outbreaks occurred. The largest-ever outbreak was in between 2000 and 2001 in Uganda, with 425 cases, about half of whom died, according to WHO estimates.
Dr Adekunle Adeniji, Director, World Health Organisation (WHO) National Polio laboratory, Department of Virology, University of Ibadan, also affirmed that Ebola virus is not in Nigeria.
Dr Adeniji, who anchors a laboratory which is foremost in identification of viruses in Nigeria, said there is however the possibility of the Ebola virus finding its way into Nigeria through the movement of people from endemic areas.
“I cannot waive aside easily the possibility of Ebola virus being brought to this country when infected individuals travel to Nigeria. This is a disease that spreads through contact with the blood, body fluids, organ and tissues of infected animals as well as direct contact with blood, organ or body secretions of an infected person with body fluids of infected individuals.
“Ebola virus is not a new virus, it has been happening for many years in places such as Sudan, Zaire and Uganda. The rumoured cases some weeks back turned out to be dengue fever, which is also a hemorrhagic fever with similar symptoms with Ebola disease.”
Dr Adeniji, warning that individuals be mindful of what they handle and how they treat all cases of fever, adding that “though we do not have any case of EVD, we still need to be careful of all fevers that cause bleeding from openings of the body such as eyes, ears and nose.”
Early symptoms of the disease include fever, headache, chills, diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, sore throat, backache, and joint pains. Later symptoms include bleeding from the eyes, ears and nose, bleeding from the mouth and rectum, eye swelling, swelling of the genitals and rashes all over the body that often contain blood. It could progress to coma, shock and death.
Unfortunately, these are early symptoms of many other illnesses, ranging from a passing fever to malaria, cholera and meningitis.
The expert declared that Ebola virus is more dangerous than other hemorrhagic fevers because it kills more, adding that it was really deadly because man is its dead end host. It is the same case with Lassa fever.
“The rats that spread Lassa fever do not develop any disease or symptoms as a result. However, when the virus gets to humans, the immunity of the body either kills it or the virus likes the individual. So the man is a dead end host.”
Dr Adeniji also said there is no vaccine for the disease yet, stressing the need for people to ensure they take precautions that they do not contract the infection.
Part of the steps to take, he said include ensuring that all cases of fever go to the hospitals to ensure it is not an hemorrhagic fever; avoiding direct contact with body secretions of sick people such as vomit; and uncooked bush meat.
“People who live around hunters, that handle fresh bush meats or their hunters need to be very careful. The Ebola virus has been isolated from wild animals such as bats, forest antelope, pigs, monkeys, gorillas and porcupines, especially those found dead. It will be better for hunters not to sell fresh bush meat but to first of all process it. The case in Liberia was linked to bush meat,”he said.
Dr Adeniji emphasised the need to maintain high standard of personal and environmental hygiene at all times. These measures, he said, include washing of hands often with soap and water; avoiding close contact with people who are sick and ensuring that objects used by the sick are decontaminated and properly disposed.
He urged health workers to be at alert, wear personal protective equipment, and observe universal basic precautions when attending to sick patients.
According to him, “Health workers are highly at risk of contracting this infection. They need a high index of suspicion when taking care of patients since they might not know when dealing with a patient that had this viral hemorrhagic fever.”
Currently, experts believe that there is some evidence of sexual spread of Ebola virus, but the major route of its spread is by butchering infected animals and ritual funeral practices. Its outbreak typically occurs in jungles or rural areas where people come in contact with bush meat.
The WHO said early this week that it expects the deadly virus spread to continue for several more months in West Africa.
With several cases of Ebola reported in Mali, Gambia, Ghana and Sierra Leone, West Africa is seeing the most challenging outbreak since the disease was discovered 38 years ago.
New figures released by the WHO on April 8 indicate there have been 157 suspected cases, including 101 deaths recorded. In Liberia, there have been 21 cases, including 10 fatalities, of which five have been confirmed as Ebola. Mali has seen nine suspected cases, with tests so far showing two of them did not have the virus. Also, one death has been recorded in Ghana after the outbreak started.
Currently, there is no vaccine, cure or specific treatment. But some research groups in the United States are working in conjunction with the U.S. government to find treatments. In March 2014, University of Texas and three other organisations got $26 million in funding from United States National Institutes of Health to find a cure for Ebola and another deadly virus Marburg in case they are ever used for bio-terrorism in the United States.
Several small biotech companies and U.S. university departments are also developing potential vaccines, but this work has yet to advance from animal studies into clinical trials in humans – so any use in people now would be very risky.