Tuesday, 16 September 2014

History of unprecedent Ebola outbreak in West Africa since identification of virus in 1976

The current outbreak of Ebola virus is far most the deadiest in the disease history since its discovery in Congo in 1976. According to a report on the New England Journal of Medecine, also reported by the CNN, the new disease locus was detected in Meliandou, a small village of Guinea. 
As you can see from the map below, the village is located in the Guéckédou area, a region near the border with Sierra Leone and Liberia. As a consequence the virus found ideal conditions to spread out in a relatively populated area (around 40-60 inhabitans for Km2). The first victim registered, the so called Patient Zero, was a 2-year-old toddler that died on 6th December 2013, just four days after contracting the virus. Symthoms, in particular in the early stages, are similar to much more common diseases of these regions like flu, typhoid fever and malaria. Therefore, taking also in consideration that previous outbreaks of the disease where first registered in central Africa it was difficult to early detect  the virus. 

Also the Traditional African burial rituals played a part in its spread: Ebola virus is not, for example, as infectious as diseases like the flu, as airborne transmission is much less likely. However, as it can survive for several days outside the body, including on the skin of an infected person and it's common practice for mourners to touch the body of the deceased. They only then need to touch their mouth to become infected. Therefore, the virus easily infected the family members of patient Zero and other villagers. However,  Ebola virus disease is generally not spread through routine social contact (such as shaking hands) with patients who do not have symptoms. You'd need to have close contact with the source of infection to be at risk .

 Other ways people can catch Ebola are by:

  • Touching the soiled clothing of an infected person, then touching their mouth 
  • Having sex with an infected person without using a condom (the virus is present in semen for up to seven weeks after the infected person has recovered) 
  • Handling unsterilised needles or medical equipment that were used in the care of the infected person 
 The image below excerpt from a sign published by the Government of Sierra Leone in collaboration with UNICEF lists some measures that citizens need to follow to prevent Ebola:

  Cases and deaths registered

Image excerpt from a post on the Intl New York Times website

 Also read
 Ebola outbreak in West Africa (Storify page by MSF)

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