What is Ebola? How does it spread?

During the recent week, I have been asked with many questions by the media on dengue situation in Malaysia, but not these past 2-3 days. Attention has shifted to Ebola…

It is disturbing that the world faces another infectious threat, this time from the Ebola virus. Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever (EHF) or Ebola Viral disease (EVD), which is a viral illness first identified in 1976, has hit the western part of Africa since February this year. The number of infected individuals, which have shown a gradual and steady increase initially, have shown a marked escalation in the last one month. As of 1 August 2014, the cumulative number of EVD cases stands at 1,603 including 887 deaths; out of which 60 were healthcare workers. The countries that have been the epicenter of this outbreak are Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. In the recent week, this has also spilled over to Nigeria. This sharp increase in cases and the high fatality rate (estimated to be 60% during this outbreak) has raised international concern and placed health facilities in the affected nations under severe strain.

Ebola_virus_virion
Electron micrograph of an Ebola virus virion.
Created by CDC microbiologist Cynthia Goldsmith, this colorized transmission electron micrograph (TEM) revealed some of the ultrastructural morphology displayed by an Ebola virus vision.

EVD presents with initial symptoms of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain and sore throat. Later phases can manifest with vomiting, diarrhoea and – in some cases – internal and/or external bleeding. Humans are infected through close contact with infected animals eg. chimpanzees, fruit bats and antelopes. It then spreads between humans by direct contact with infected blood, bodily fluids or organs, or indirectly through contact with contaminated environments. There is no vaccine and antiviral therapy that is currently available for EVD; making prevention measures all the more important. While the outbreak currently seems focused in West Africa, the World Health Organization (WHO) has cautioned member states to heighten their preparedness of any eventuality of more widespread transmission. In the current era of increase global travel, the Ministry of Health shares this concern and has activated preparatory measures at major entry points and health institutions. Effective hygiene and infection control procedures including strict adherence of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPEs) and isolation measures would go a long way in controlling this infection. As the outbreak evolves, guidelines and interventions may need to change to suit the situation.

The Ministry of Health Malaysia encourages the public to get the latest updates from the Ministry’s website or Facebook of Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre (CPRC) http://www.facebook.com/kkmcprc. The Minister of Health Malaysia, Datuk Seri Dr S.Subramaniam has issued a press statement on 2 August 2014 where he outlined preparedness measures currently undertaken by the Ministry.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is closely monitoring the situation :

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