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Ebola in Africa: what expats need to know
Dr Peter Salama, Executive Director of the World Health Organization (WHO) Health Emergencies Programme which coordinates outbreak responses, remarked that we have “learnt never, ever to underestimate the Ebola virus disease and we will be remaining vigilant.”
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa was finally declared over on the 13th of January 2016 by the WHO, but for expats in Africa it remains important to be aware of the disease and the risks it presents.
By the beginning of 2016, a disease that in less than two years had crossed borders and killed thousands of people – primarily in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – had finally been brought under control. WHO reported a total of 28,646 cases of Ebola and 11,323 deaths.
What is less well known, is that there was another Ebola outbreak in May 2017, this time in a remote area the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). What is remarkable is that this outbreak of 8 reported cases was declared over in just under 2 months due to the efforts of local and international agencies that responded to the outbreak by setting up mobile diagnostic labs that allowed for onsite testing of patients.
WHO health professionals say although they are more experienced in dealing with Ebola, there is still no cure. This article presents the facts on Ebola and what you should do if you encounter it.
What is Ebola?
Ebola was first discovered in 1976, with 2 reported outbreaks in South Sudan and along the Ebola River in the DRC. From here, the virus was subsequently named after the Ebola River.
It is transmitted from wild animals such as gorillas, fruit bats and antelopes to humans. It then spreads across the population through human-to-human transmission by way of bodily fluids coming into contact with broken skin or the mucus membrane. Ebola is part of a group of contagious infections called viral haemorrhagic fevers, which also includes Lassa and Marburg.
The virus can exist outside of the body for days and items that have been in contact with bodily fluids should be avoided. This is why medical professionals and family members are considered to be the most at risk of catching the disease.
What are the symptoms
Once someone is infected with Ebola, it begins to multiply in the body. Symptoms can vary but they start to appear after 4 to 6 days with a sudden onset of a fever, diarrhoea, vomiting, severe headache and a sore throat.
The period between infection with the virus and the start of symptoms is called the incubation period. For Ebola, this can be as short as 2 days or as long as 21 days.
Areas affected by Ebola
While outbreaks have been reported and maintained for years in the DRC, Sudan, Gabon, Guinea and Uganda – there have also been reported cases of Ebola crossing over into other countries like the US, Italy and the UK.
Tanzania and Botswana are two examples of countries that have managed to prevent Ebola from entering its borders through strict government measures to screen travellers arriving from Ebola-affected countries.
If you think you may have come into contact with Ebola
If you suspect you may have Ebola or have come into contact with someone suspected of having the virus, you should attend the nearest hospital or clinic immediately.
These facilities have a responsibility to report any cases that are thought to be Ebola and if any of the cases come back positive they are then reported at a government level.
Health care response
Dr Peter Salama says that they put a huge emphasis on getting as much information from the people who have been infected, to help manage the case and isolate it as quickly possible to prevent the spread of Ebola.
WHO health professionals say they are more experienced in dealing with Ebola but say there is still no cure and its thought that the only way to help prevent the spread of the disease is through 21 days of quarantine.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have said ‘experimental vaccines and treatments for Ebola are under development, but they have not yet been fully tested for safety or effectiveness’.
Recovery from Ebola must be done carefully and patiently. The virus is known to persist in some areas of the body of those who have recovered from the disease, such as the testicles, the inside of the eye, and the central nervous system. In pregnant women, the virus can persist in the placenta, amniotic fluid and foetus. If you are breastfeeding the virus can also persist in the breast milk.
Studies have shown that a small percentage of survivors can still test positive for the Ebola virus for a period of more than 9 months.
What can you do about it?
- Check if you are travelling to a region where Ebola may still exist
- Remain vigilant of Ebola symptoms
- Seek healthcare immediately if you suspect you may have come into contact with Ebola
To find out more about Ebola visit World Health Organization website.
WHO health professionals say although they are more experienced in dealing with Ebola, there is still no cure