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Ebola

© Martin Zinggl

    Ebola is a virus that is transmitted through direct contact with blood, bodily secretions, organs and infected people. Ebola first appeared in 1976, and although its origins are unknown, bats are considered the likely host. Early 2014, an Ebola epidemic broke out in Guinea. It then quickly spread to other countries in West Africa: Sierra Leone and Liberia.

    The Ebola outbreak in West Africa killed 11,315 people after being officially declared on 22 March 2014 in Guinea.

    On 22 December 2016, the results of an experimental Ebola vaccine trial were released by the Lancet. The trial found the vaccine to be highly effective in protecting people against the Zaire strain of Ebola.

    This vaccine will be a powerful tool to help prevent the spread of the Zaire strain of Ebola and to protect health workers," said MSF President Dr Bertrand Draguez. 

    "MSF will try to make use of it in any future outbreak of the disease. More research is still needed to determine the length of protection that it offers to people and into vaccines for other strains of Ebola. Progress also still needs to be made in improving the treatment of patients once they are infected with Ebola, to make sure more lives can be saved.”

    If contracted,  the Ebola disease is one of the deadliest in the world. It is a highly contagious virus that can kill up to 90 percent of people who catch it, causing terror among the infected communities.

    Humans and animals can catch the disease. At funerals, the deceased can also transmit the virus to the be-reaved in case of direct contact with him.

    Symptoms

    Initially, there are no specific symptoms, making diagnosis difficult. The disease is often characterized by the sudden onset of fever, weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. These symptoms are followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, kidney and liver failure and, in some cases, internal and external bleeding.

    Treatment

    There is no specific treatment or vaccine for this virus. While vaccines are currently in development, there is no treatment for the virus and patient care is centred on hydration and treating the symptoms such as fever and nausea.

    Treatment is limited to supportive therapy which involves hydrating the patient to maintain his level of oxygenation and his blood pressure and treat any infectious complications. Today, there is only a preventive vaccine which permits the control of an epidemic before it starts.

    Preventing transmission is essential: patients are treated in Ebola Treatment Centres, where strict infection control procedures are in force. Identifying those people the patient was in contact with when they were ill becomes a priority, as do safe burials. Community health promotion is also undertaken to inform the community about the threat and how to try and keep themselves safe and what to do if they develop signs.

    As 2018 drew to a close, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was in the midst of its second Ebola outbreak of the year, and its biggest ever. MSF was part of the response, led by the Ministry of Health. Although rapid and well-resourced, with teams having access to a promising new vaccine and several new drugs with the potential to better protect and treat people, the response, and those managing it, failed to adapt to people’s priorities, and to gain the trust of the community. This lack of trust in the health services meant people delayed or avoided seeking treatment. By the end of the year, the
    epidemic in North Kivu and Ituri provinces had claimed more than 360 lives and in some areas was still not under control.
    In 2018, 2,800 people were admitted to Ebola treatment centres, of whom 450 were confirmed as having Ebola.