We have all heard about the outbreaks of the deadly Ebola virus in Africa, and here in Brazil, we have long been concerned with epidemics of dengue. yellow fever and malaria, but do we need to add Ebola to our list of worries?
There have been no cases of Ebola here in Brazil, and most public health experts believe the risk for people in this country is very low, but still Ebola virus disease is something to keep on our radar. Here are some basic facts:
Where did it come from?
First described in 1976 in the Congo and Sudan, originally it was believed to be contracted from people eating infected gorillas, but the more recent theory suggests that African fruit bats are the source of the infection, and spreads to people from infected bat excrement that contaminates food sources.
How is it spread?
It is spread from person to person through direct contact with body fluids of an infected person. For example, if a person gets infected fluid (such as blood, saliva, or urine) onto their hands, then touches their eyes or nose, they may well become infected too. Fortunately, a person is not infectious until they show symptoms, but the bad news is that after that they could stay infectious for long after the symptoms go away, if they survive it. For example, the virus can remain in the semen for up to 7 weeks after the infection appears.
Why is the disease so vicious?
It is easy to transmit from person-to-person, the symptoms are severe, the mortality rate is high, and there is no good treatment.
What are the symptoms?
Anytime from 2 days to 3 weeks after the person is contaminated with the virus (usually 8 to 10 days after exposure), the victim develops symptoms similar to a severe flu (or dengue), with a high fever, headaches, muscle pains, and sometimes a rash. After that, vomiting occurs that may be followed by generalized bleeding in the eyes, skin, mouth, and internally. At this point the internal organs such as the heart and kidney can fail, which is what kills most people with the disease.
What is the treatment and mortality rate?
There are no specific medications such as antibiotics that help, though experimental drugs are being tested. The victim needs intravenous fluids, strict isolation, and support in an intensive care unit. Despite treatment, the death rate is from 60 to 90%.
What precautions should I take?
The Minister of Health on 9 August began issuing alerts in airports so that airline passengers are aware of the symptoms, and the government has raised the level of concern to stage 2 (out of 4), so they are prepared to handle any suspected cases. So far Brazil has no travel restrictions, and according to the World Health Organization “The risk of a tourist or businessman/woman becoming infected with Ebola virus during a visit to the affected areas and developing disease after returning is extremely low.”
However, it would probably be wise to avoid any unnecessary travel to Western Africa until the epidemic is controlled, and be aware of contact with any person who has recently returned from there. And remember, the best way to control the spread of most viral infections is frequent hand-washing, using soap and water or a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content.
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