Understanding ebola: Virus symptoms, history explained

posted in: News, Top Stories | 0

This story is meant to clarify misconceptions about ebola.

Ebola is not a pretty disease. In later stages, blood runs out of the eye cavities; pools of red can sit in the ear, slowly dripping down the cheek; accompanying this isn’t the common nosebleed. Blood and plasma will occasionally leak into the surrounding tissues, taking Ebola with it.

But this hemorrhaging to death is not as commonplace with the Ebola virus as people think; it’s actually quite rare. The virus attacks specific cells, one type compromising the immune system. It then allows the virus to propagate in the body, causing people to become more susceptible to other infections–a secondary source is often the partner in crime.

Another type of cell that lines the blood vessels is attacked as well. The blood clots more easily and the copious amounts of clots are what keep oxygenated blood from getting to vital organs. The clots can also cause uncontrollable bleeding. For example, there isn’t enough clotting power to cause a person to bruise. However, people will usually die from kidney and liver failure, as well as immune suppression before they die from bleeding to death.

Ebola is a fragile virus that is easily destroyed by sunlight, soap, chlorine and heat. The virus is highly contagious and only lives in bodily fluids such as sweat, semen, saliva, blood and urine.

The first sign of the virus is usually a fever, followed by flu-like symptoms. The person can only excrete the virus when symptomatic. If the virus is in someone’s system it may remain dormant for 43 hours or up to three weeks, but it is not contagious until the person is showing signs of the illness.

So what distinguishes ebola’s initial symptoms from the flu?  The biggest distinguishing factor is whether or not the person has been exposed to Ebola. Right now the main question has been: has the person recently visited West Africa and have they been in direct contact with someone’s bodily fluids there?

The first ebola outbreak was in 1976 in West Africa and has been followed by small outbreaks ever since–-the only active places right now being in Sierra Leone, Liberia and some in Guinea. As of Oct. 17 the World Health Organization reported that more than 9,000 have contracted the virus in West Africa and more than 4,000 have died.

“The disease is still viewed [in West Africa] as a spiritual problem,” Director of Academic Education for the School of Physician Assistant Studies Elizabeth Crawford said. “Their cultural traditions are making them sick and to educate them is the way to go.”

Ebola’s name originated from the river that runs through a town in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the virus was initially found in fruit bats. Humans contract the virus when bitten or when eating and mishandling bush meat from larger mammals that have eaten the fruit bats, mostly monkeys and other primates.

Currently in the United States there have been 11 known cases in the past year. All cases came from U.S. citizens who had worked in West Africa. One fatality in the United States has been recorded thus far, and out of the 11 cases, there were two people who contracted the virus solely in the United States. The two people were nurses who had been dealing with a now deceased patient. The Center for Disease Control has recently estimated the fatality rate of affected people in the United States to be 11 percent, whereas in West Africa it is between 50 and 70 percent.

Presently in the United States because the ebola scare, hospitals are on alert and have become more knowledgeable in handling the situation. If there is a suspected Ebola case, the patient is quickly isolated until proven otherwise.

Even faculty at Pacific are increasing student’s awareness. Biology Professor Samuel Hirt has shared information on Ebola with his anatomy class.

“For our class we went over Ebola because it is a disease that affects the lymphatic, immune and circulatory systems; these are systems we are covering in anatomy,” Hirt said. “Ebola is a hot topic right now in the media so it was just a natural fit to talk about it in class and relate it to our curriculum.”

Likewise, the Pacific Health Profession campus in Hillsboro is keeping graduate students up-to-date about what is currently going on in the world. Crawford wants students to be aware about epidemiology and its health measures.

She will be speaking with students interested in going into health professions next month about the disease, dangers there are to the community and how to educate people.

“Part of my point with students is that you need to look at the science and facts, not just what Hollywood has to say,” Crawford said.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *