Ebola: Killing Thousands

Written by Dr Harold Gunatillake

What is Ebola? Ebola is a virus with a high fatality rate, and was identified in Africa for the first time in 1978. It is a haemorrhagic (Bleeding) disease accompanied with fever. Kristina Obom, director Advanced Academic Programs' Centre for Biotechnology Education, states that the maladies addressed range from diseases that have reappeared in altered genetic forms. Such as the influenza virus and the West Nile virus turned into the hemorrhagic fever caused by the Ebola virus.

The virus is a member of the family Filoviridae, named for their long filament-like appearance in the electron microscope.

This virus has killed more than 1200 African people to date and seems to be spreading to other countries. The first outbreak detected was in 1976 in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Since then there have been sporadic outbreaks in sub-Saharan Africa.

A few weeks ago two Americans contracted the disease while doing medical missionary work in Africa. They were sent to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta for treatment.

How do they contract?

The natural reservoir of the virus is bats and monkey become infected from the bats, and the humans are infected from monkeys or bats. Humans can transmit the virus through contact with body fluids. Incubation period is 2-21 days, and initial symptoms are flu-like.

Talking about monkeys, in Sri Lanka, they have outnumbered humans in Kandy and the neighbouring hills. People keep their doors and windows closed right through the day fearing that they would enter and steal mainly ladies products like lip-stick, face and other creams, or any form of liquids they can get hold of. The whole place smells dirty after they leave. If the epidemic spreads to Sri Lanka the death rate of people will be uncountable.

Americans are concerned and scared, especially considering patients with Ebola have been brought to Emory University Hospital for treatment.

Transmission of the virus requires contact with body fluids (blood and saliva), it is not airborne like flu virus.

One of the main ways the virus is spread is through local burial customs that involve kissing a corpse.

"In the hours after death with Ebola, that is when the body is most infectious, because the body is loaded with the virus. Everybody who touches the corpse is another infection," Ken Isaacs, vice president of Programs and Governmental Relations for Samaritan's Purse, said in congressional testimony.

CNN reports that Ebola patients in Liberia have run away when the healthcare facility they were being treated at was attacked by the rioters frightened of the disease. As medical staff and authority's battle to contain Ebola, are rumors and superstition making the situation more difficult?

"Absolutely," says CNN's Nima Elbagir, adding that the Liberia clinic attack is just one sign of spiraling fear about the disease, which means that those who become sick are terrified of seeking help.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says it is finalising a plan to stop the spread of the deadly Ebola virus, with details to be released very soon.

The death toll from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has risen to 1,427, according to the latest figures released by the WHO.

Liberia remains the worst-affected country with 624 deaths. Guinea has seen 406 people die while the disease has killed 392 in Sierra Leone and five in Nigeria.

The WHO has repeatedly said it does not recommend travel or trade restrictions for countries affected by Ebola, saying such measures could heighten food and supply shortages.

Hiding infected
Families hiding infected loved ones and the existence of "shadow zones" where medics cannot go mean the Ebola epidemic is even bigger than thought, the agency said.

"As Ebola has no cure, some believe infected loved ones will be more comfortable dying at home," the WHO said in a statement detailing why the outbreak had been underestimated.

A new experimental drug has saved a group of rhesus monkeys from deadly Marburg virus, a very close cousin of Ebola virus that kills up to 90 percent of those it infects, researchers report.

The drug protected 16 monkeys infected with lethal doses of Marburg virus, even when it was given three days after infection, according to a study published Aug. 20 in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Scientists note, however, that research with animals often fails to yield similar results with humans.

The new Marburg and Ebola drugs are based on molecules called small interfering RNA, also referred to as siRNA or "silencer" RNA.

In July, the US Food and Drug Administration placed a hold on human clinical tests for the Ebola medication, which is produced by the Canadian company Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corp. under the name TKM-Ebola. The FDA asked the company for additional information to ensure the drug is safe at higher doses.

But in the face of the current outbreak, the FDA earlier this month changed its full clinical hold on the drug to a partial hold, enabling the potential use of the drug for people infected with Ebola, Tekmira announced in a press release.

The "silencer" RNA drugs work in a completely different way from the experimental ZMapp drug that has been administered to a handful of Ebola victims with evidence of success, Geisbert said.

Dr Sheik Umar Khan, who is leading the fight against Ebola in Sierra Leone, learns from a test he's caught the virus. He is quarantined in a medical ward run by MSF. Dr Sheik Umar Khan dies in Sierra Leone.

Doctors that work for the WHO offer Khan's medical team an experimental drug that's never been given to people. It's called ZMapp. They have a small box of frozen samples.

Three doctors in Liberia and two American aid workers who received ZMapp all appeared to respond to the drug, showing signs of improvement after receiving it, according to BBC News

Ebola virus is a great threat, the spread is now curtailed. And Zmapp drug seems to arrest the disease.

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