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The Ebola virus disease (EVD), previously referred to as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, is a severe and often fatal infection. It is spread through contact with infected blood or bodily fluids.
Ebola virus disease was first identified in 1976 in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire). It is named after a river in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since its discovery, there have been several Ebola outbreaks, primarily limited to remote villages near tropical rainforests in Central and West Africa. As a result of the remoteness of the locations in which most of the outbreaks have occurred, the number of victims has been limited. The 2014 outbreak of Ebola virus disease has been one of the largest in documented history, in terms of both the number of cases and the geographical spread.
There have been 5 identified species of the ebolavirus genus, with 3 of them having caused previous EVD outbreaks. The 2014 outbreak is caused by the Zaire species, the most deadly strain, with a historic fatality rate of up to 90%.
Ebola outbreaks occur when the virus is transmitted first from an infected animal to a human and then between humans. The viral infection is spread from animals to humans through contact with infected wildlife such as fruit bats, chimps, and gorillas. Certain fruit bats are believed to be the natural hosts for the Ebola viruses.
EVD is transmitted from person to person by direct contact (through broken skin and mucous membrane) via bodily fluids or secretions from infected people, such as:
semen (up to 61 days after infection)
Transmission can also occur through contact with objects contaminated with these fluids and the bodies of the deceased with EVD. Since the bodies of the deceased can infect those who handle them, safe burial practises are extremely important in containing outbreaks. The infection can be spread further by cultural burial practises such as ritual washings that bring people into close contact with infected bodies.
Symptoms and Complications
The Ebola virus targets the host’s (infected person’s) blood and immune system, which can lead to bleeding and a weakened immune system. After an incubation period (time between infection and the appearance of symptoms) of 2 to 21 days, EVD is characterized by a rapid onset of flu-like symptoms such as:
From there, many patients go on to develop:
reduced liver and kidney function
30% to 50% of cases result in internal and external bleeding 4 to 5 days after the onset of symptoms. Although some people die as a result of shock due to multiple organ failures, most Ebola victims die as a result of severe dehydration from extensive vomiting and diarrhea.
During outbreaks, those at greatest risk of getting the viral infection are health care workers and the family and friends of the infected who have close contact with the patients.
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