By Cazzy Lewchuk, Staff Writer
An Ebola virus disease outbreak is currently affecting parts of West Africa. Some inevitable spreading to other countries has already occurred, with potential spreading on the horizon for many others.
Formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, the illness spreads through direct contact with body fluids. Ebola can also be spread by fruit bats, which are considered a delicacy in some parts of Africa and are also known to spread the disease via biting.
Symptoms typically start with fever, vomiting, and chronic pain. Those are typically followed by the much harsher symptoms of diarrhea and severe internal and external bleeding. There are currently no known cures or vaccines for Ebola. The fatality rate ranges between 20 and 90 per cent depending on the outbreak and treatment efforts, with an average of 50 per cent of victims succumbing to the virus.
The current outbreak of Ebola is the most extreme case to date. Although estimates are difficult to determine and are constantly changing, there are currently over 8,000 known cases which have resulted in at least 4,000 deaths. Officials believe that the infected toll may actually be higher than documented, as many cases go unreported, particularly in rural areas. The cases are almost entirely confined to Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, with a few isolated ones in Nigeria and Senegal. As of press time, there have been at least three documented cases of Ebola outside of West Africa, with one in Spain and two in the US.
Thomas Duncan, a Liberia native who lived in Dallas, Texas, tested positive for Ebola on September 30, 11 days after returning to Dallas from a trip to Liberia. Eight days after the diagnosis, Duncan was given an experimental drug and placed under isolation. He succumbed to the virus on October 8, making him the first known person to be diagnosed with Ebola and die within the US.
The second US citizen confirmed with Ebola is photojournalist Ashoka Mupko, who was covering the outbreak in West Africa for NBC. Mupko is currently being treated in Providence, Rhode Island, and as of October 10 his condition has improved.
Teresa Romero, a nurse from Spain, was also confirmed to have caught the virus as of October 7. She contracted Ebola in Madrid through treating Spanish missionaries from Liberia. Romero is currently receiving treatment, and is the first known person to have contracted Ebola from outside of West Africa. As of October 10, the hospital treating Romero has stated her condition has worsened. Despite mass protest, Romero’s dog Excalibur, who had not been confirmed to be infected with the disease, was forcibly put down on October 8 under government order.
Several patients in the US and Spain are being monitored and/or quarantined after coming in direct contact with confirmed infected patients from West Africa and with Duncan in the US and Romero in Spain. Health care workers from several countries have been treated or are undergoing treatment in isolation after coming in contact with the virus from West Africa.
Measures are currently in place to screen potential victims of Ebola, including questionnaires filled out by people returning from West Africa in some US airports. Currently Ebola is not known to have spread to any parts of Canada or the US outside of Texas. Efforts to prevent and treat this disease are currently underway, and proceeds to contain the virus’ damage control are heavily encouraged.
As of October 9, six Canadian airports have prepared screenings for those flying in from West Africa, while ceasing all flights to West Africa. Microbiologist Jason Tetro told CBC, “The number of people who come from the affected countries is very minimal. So really this is an excellent move to reinforce the public trust.”
“You want to know if someone has travelled from a region that has high reservoirs of infection. You want to know if they’ve been near somebody who could have had Ebola and they may be exposed. And you want to see if they have symptoms. I think all those things are reasonable.”