Features Health

United we can keep Ebola at bay

EBOLA virus (EBV), formerly designated Zaire ebolavirus from the Democratic Republic of Congo, was suspected to be the new strain of its close relative, Marburg virus.
The disease is ravaging West Africa.
To avoid confusion with its relative, it was renamed the “Ebola Virus” in 2010.
It is a very dangerous virus and its permanent residence is in bats, particularly the fruit bat.
It is primarily transmitted between humans and from animals to humans through body fluids.
It was discovered in 1976 and has now been causing many deaths and spreading fear.
Ebola comes from a family of viruses that are the tinniest. They are the cause of common illnesses such as colds flu, and sore throats. Viruses also cause terrible diseases such as polio, Ebola itself and AIDS.
Much of the information about Ebola is more positive, and it has been shown to be genetically stable – unlike the flu virus which normally mutates.
Research suggests that people can pick up the virus from the solid waste or urine of fruit bats; or by eating infected bush meat – usually monkeys that have already been infected.
One professor says some traditional burial customs, whereby all mourners touch the body, also cause the virus to spread fast because it may be on someone’s skin.
But what are fruit bats (akansuswa in Bemba)?
These are flying mammals that sleep in trees, not caves. They have big eyes that help them see clearly at night.
And they turn up their noses at insects.
Three are currently 166 species. Doctors have documented cases of infection passed on from the handling of infected chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines.
Outbreaks of the disease mainly happen in villages close to dense rainforests in Central and West Africa, where humans come face to face with animals.
The West African epidemic is thought to have begun when the virus spread from infected wildlife into the human population and later on began spreading between humans.
“The virus is killed when meat is cooked at a high temperature or heavily smoked, but anyone who handles, skins or butchers an infected wild animal is at risk of contracting the virus,” warns one researcher.
Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are currently struggling to defeat this deadly virus.
Pig farms can help to spread the infection rates if they are built near fruit bat colonies, since the pigs carry the virus without symptoms and can pass it on to humans.
Varying death rates
The death rate has varied in a number of outbreaks.
In one, a quarter of 159 people infected died. In another, 171 of 186 of those infected succumbed to the unyielding enemy – a mortality figure of 90 per cent.
Early symptoms following a fertile ground for this virus of between two and 21 days include fever, headache, muscle pain or a sore throat.
Such symptoms are common because they are similar to malaria symptoms. So recognising infection early is difficult.
The later symptoms – at this time it is often too late to do much to help – include diarrhea, vomiting, rash, failing kidney body filters and livers, stomach pain, internal and external bleeding in the mouth and eyes.
Death usually occurs 10 days after the patient has convulsions and enters a coma. The cause of death is a complete, multiple organ failure.
There is no treatment or vaccine available at present although a number of vaccines and drugs are in clinical trials on animals.
Ebola outbreaks have been stopped. Where there is a will, there is a way.
But communities need clear advice on the need not to touch dead animals, sell or eat the meat of any animal that they find already dead.
They should also avoid hunting animals that are sick or behaving strangely, as this is another red flag, you know.
In Zambia preventive measures have been put in place, including the requirement for all airlines to screen incoming passengers in case of suspected infection.
We want to make sure that no inadvertent ‘importation’ of this virus is imposed on our populations.
Right now there are thermal scanners to screen suspected cases in major airports.
Let us follow these guidelines. Together we can defeat this deadly virus.
The author is a Zambia Daily Mail staffer.

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