Tuesday, August 5, 2014

An Ebola Outbreak in West Africa

A recent outbreak of a viral disease called Ebola hemorrhagic fever (Ebola HF) has killed over 700 people in the West African nations of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.   Infected persons initially exhibit symptoms including a fever, fatigue, and joint, muscle and abdominal pain, similar to the flu.  But unlike the flu, Ebola HF interferes with mechanisms involved in blood clotting, ultimately leading to hemorrhage in multiple organs.  Over 55% of all persons infected with Ebola HF have died, making Ebola HF one of the most deadly viral diseases currently infecting humans.

Before you get too worried, you should know that the virus that causes Ebola HF is NOT transmitted through the air (like the common cold) or even by casual physical contact (e.g. a handshake).  It is transmitted primarily through direct contact with bodily fluids.  Persons most at risk are people who live with an infected person, health care workers, and persons who work with infected cadavers, such as funeral workers.  The availability of good medical care (not always available in West Africa) reduces the death rate significantly.  So far, two Americans have contracted the disease while working in Liberia; both have been transported to the U.S. and are being treated in a special medical unit at Emory University in Atlanta.  Both are expected to recover.

The CDC will be sending 50 additional disease experts to the region within the next month in an effort to contain the outbreak.  For updates and more information about Ebola HF, see the CDC’s website page on the topic.

Is there anything you should be doing right now to protect yourself?  Well, yes… according to the CDC you should “avoid nonessential travel to the west African nations of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone”.  Shouldn’t be too hard for most of us.

No comments: