What is the Ebola virus and where is the latest outbreak?

THE Ebola virus claimed more than 11,300 lives in West Africa when it swept through Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia in the 2013-2016 outbreak.

However, it is now devastating Congo, with health officials now confirming a second outbreak in the Equateur province.

Where is the latest outbreak of Ebola?

The new outbreak is largely confined to the north of Congo, near Mbandaka in the Equateur province.

Six cases of the disease have arisen, with four people dead from Ebola so far.

Yet, with a vaccine readily available,

This continues from 2019's epidemic which is currently the second-deadliest Ebola outbreak in history.

To date, there have been 3,406 confirmed cases and nearly 2,250 people have died since the epidemic was first declared in August 2018.

There were concerns that the virus may be spreading beyond Democratic Republic of Congo in to neighbouring Uganda after a five-year-old boy died from the virus in the first cross-border case.

The youngster had travelled across the border into Congo with four family members, including his mother and father, to visit his grandad.

After showing symptoms, including vomiting blood, he was taken to hospital near the border in Uganda where a diagnosis of Ebola was confirmed by the Uganda Virus Institute (UVRI) on June 11.

His grandma also died from the disease, health officials confirmed.

In October, WHO said that the outbreak was contained in Congo.

The terrifying surge in deaths resulted in the Ebola epidemic being declared an international health emergency, as it garnered greater international attention and aid.

It was only the fifth such designation, after the 2013-2016 West African Ebola epidemic that killed over 11,300 people, the 2009 flu pandemic, polio in 2014 and the Zika virus that caused a spate of birth defects across Latin America.

The outbreak in 2013 was catastrophic, leaving whole communities in ruins, thousands of children orphans and millions facing starvation.

Nearly 30,000 people across the three nations were infected with the disease, which is spread via contact with an infected person's bodily fluids.

From its epicentre in West Africa the epidemic reached Nigeria, Spain, the US and UK, only slowing in June 2016 when the WHO declared the outbreak in Liberia over.

On October 18,

The European Medicines Agency has recommended that the world's first Ebola vaccine be approved, after it was administered to hundreds of thousands of people in Africa.

Officials are testing a number of Ebola treatments but none is yet licensed.

What is Ebola?

The Ebola virus disease – previously called Ebola haemorrhagic fever – is a viral infection that occurs in humans and primates.

The virus is part of the Filoviridae family, which also includes Marburg virus.

It was first detected in regions close to the River Ebola, which gave the disease its name.

To date, scientists have identified five strains of Ebola – four of which are known to cause disease in humans.

The natural reservoir – or host of the virus – is thought to be the fruit bat.

Non-human primates are a secondary host, and like humans develop fatal symptoms, so are unlikely to be the reservoir.

In spite of the epidemic that swept West Africa from 2013, scientists class Ebola as a virus that has a relatively low infection rate.

During that, the most recent and widespread outbreak, one Ebola patient would typically pass the disease on to another two people.

That is compared with a disease like measles where one case can often lead to 18 new infections.

Where did Ebola come from?

The Ebola virus was first identified by a team of scientists in what was then called Zaire, now known as Democratic Republic of the Congo, in 1976.

Until the last outbreak, the most widespread and deadliest ever, records show regular bursts of Ebola virus did occur.

However, they tended to be confined to villages close to rainforests in Central and West Africa.

Infection has been recorded in humans through contact with infected chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines.

What are the symptoms and mortality rate?

Prior to the 2014 outbreak in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, the mortality rate of the Ebola virus had been between 25 and 89 per cent – with an average of 67 per cent.

During the West African outbreak mortality varied between 25 to 90 per cent.

The virus has an incubation period of two to 21 days, meaning symptoms can take up to three weeks to appear from the time of infection.

Early symptoms of Ebola include:

  • fever
  • headache
  • muscle pain
  • sore throat
  • weakness

They are similar to those of other diseases, making diagnosis tricky in some cases.

Later as the disease progresses, it can cause:

  • diarrhoea
  • vomiting
  • rash
  • impaired kidney and liver function
  • stomach pain

internal and external bleeding

How is the Ebola virus transmitted?

Ebola is not an airborne disease, and as such it is impossible for a person to become infected by inhaling the same air as a patient.

However, the West African outbreak revealed how infectious the virus can be.

It is spread via a person's bodily fluids.

Coming into a contact with an Ebola patient's blood secretions, organs, sweat, urine, tears, semen and other fluids, can cause the infection to spread.

Those at highest risk are typically healthcare workers, family members of those infected and other people who come into close contact with an infected person.

Sexual transmission can occur, from men to women or men, after a person's symptoms have disappeared and they are declared free from the disease.

As such, world health experts advise abstaining from unprotected sex for up to nine months after being given the all clear – as scientific studies have found traces of Ebola in men's semen after this length of time.

How is Ebola treated?



The health response relies on tracking down people who may have been exposed to the virus and vaccinating them and anybody they have had contact with.

There is no single treatment for the Ebola virus. Rather, patients's symptoms are addressed.
Severely ill patients require intensive supportive care, with intravenous fluids to re-hydrate them.

But it emerged in December 2016 that a new and effective vaccine had been developed by a team in Guinea,

It has not yet been approved by any regulatory bodies but the experimental vaccine has been shown to provide 100 per cent protection against the disease as it was used in the dying days of the last outbreak.

Already a stockpile of 300,000 doses of the medication has been built up should an outbreak flare up again.

Marie-Paule Kieny of the WHO said: "“While these compelling results come too late for those who lost their lives during West Africa’s Ebola epidemic, they show that when the next outbreak hits, we will not be defenceless.

“The world can’t afford the confusion and human disaster that came with the last epidemic.”

Currently the risks are too high to start giving the vaccine to healthy kids and adults not in immediate danger of infection, according to experts.

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