What is the Ebola Virus?

There has been extensive coverage over the past few months on the outbreak of the Ebola virus. Having originated in West Africa, it is the deadliest occurrence since 1976 with over 1,400 deaths reported. With numerous reports of it spreading, just what is the Ebola virus?

The first major outbreak was reported back in March in Guinea in Western Africa. By April there was over 157 cases in the area and by July it had reached over 1,440 cases and 826 deaths. Areas such as Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone have now been put under quarantine and guarded by troops to prevent the spread of the virus.

 It is an often fatal illness in humans with a recorded fatality rate of 90%.

Ebola virus disease was previously known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, it is an often fatal illness in humans with a recorded fatality rate of 90%, although the current outbreak is thought to have a 60% fatality. There are five known strains of Ebola, and three are associated with the current outbreak. It was first discovered in 1976 in a village in West Africa near the Ebola River and is passed on to humans from infected animals such as primates, gorillas and antelope. Ebola is not caught by simply being around someone who is infected and is not passed by air or water. It is transmitted from human to human either directly through blood, tissues or bodily secretions or indirectly through infected environments. Symptoms of the virus include fever, weakness, muscle pain, vomiting and impaired kidneys and liver. The virus damages the immune system and decreases blood clotting leading to internal and external bleeding. Onset of the virus typically takes 2 to 21 days.

This week the first British person was infected; a nurse working in Sierra Leone, who has since been flown back to the UK and is being kept in a high-security infectious-disease hospital unit. There is currently no cure or vaccine against the virus available, but rehydration is an essential form of treatment through oral rehydration solutions which contain electrolytes.

Jessica Hewitt-Dean

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