New Ebola Virus Outbreak in West Africa: Who’s in Danger?

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Shows the changes in the tissue due to the Ebola Virus, as well as the presence of the virus. Image by the CDC.

This slide shows the changes in the tissue due to the Ebola Virus, as well as the presence of the virus. Image by the CDC.

An Ebola outbreak in West Africa has been in the news for some time and for good reason. The first announcement came on March 25, 2014 from the World Health Organization reporting that the Ministry of Health of Guinea has reported an outbreak of Ebola hemorrhagic fever.

The outbreak started in the four southern districts of West Africa, Guekedou, Macenta, Nzerekore and Kissidougou.

The number of cases continues to climb, as of April 16, 2014 the Ministry of Health of Guinea reported 197 probable cases, including 122 deaths.

What is Ebola?

Ebola hemorrhagic fever (Ebola HF) is part of the viral hemorrhagic fever group and is often fatal in humans and nonhuman primates such as gorillas and chimps. Researchers discovered the first Ebola virus species in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo near the Ebola River.

Scientists have replaced the term Ebola hemorrhagic fever with the term Ebola virus disease, EVD, because not all patients experience hemorrhage with the Ebola virus.

Symptoms of EVD include: fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, and loss of appetite. Some patients may experience rash, red eyes, hiccups, cough ,sore throat, chest pain, difficulty swallowing and breathing, and bleeding inside and outside of the body, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Some patients are able to recover, while some are not – and no one fully understands why.

According to the WHO EVDF outbreaks have a 90% fatality rate.

Infected wild animals spread Ebola to people, who then spread it among the human population through human-to-human transmission. According to the WHO, fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family are the natural host of the Ebola virus.

Guinea, Africa is the location of the outbreak of this new strain of Ebola. Image by the CIA

Guinea, Africa is the location of the outbreak of this new strain of Ebola. Image by the CIA

New Ebola Strain

Dr. Stephan Gunther of the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg, Germany and his team of researchers have discovered a new strain of the virus.

Dr. Gunther and his team analyzed 20 samples from the current outbreak and discovered that this strain was different – it didn’t come from the Democratic Republic of Congo or from other areas where there have been EVD outbreaks in the past.

Researchers think that the new strain has evolved in “parallel from a recent ancestor virus,” According to the article, Emergence of Zaire Ebola Virus Disease in Guinea — Preliminary Report.

According to the study, this new strain was introduced in December of 2013 or possibly even earlier as there have been clusters of cases. The first suspected case was a two year old girl from Gueckedou prefecture who died in early December. The team also found that an infected health-care worker from Guinea may have spread the virus to Macenta, Nzerekore, and Kissidougou in February.

Dr. Gunther and his team also identified the most common symptoms among confirmed cases include,  fever, severe diarrhea, and vomiting, but hemorrhage was less common in these patients. The case-fatality rate of initial cases is at 80 percent.

Ebola Outbreak in Africa:

There is no vaccine for the Ebola virus and no specific treatment for those who have the disease. Among humans, the Ebola virus is highly contagious, and spreads via various routes, including:

  • Direct contact with blood, mucus, organs, or other bodily fluids of an infected person.
  • Indirect contact with environments contaminated with fluids.
  • Men who recover can transmit the virus via their semen for up to seven weeks.
  • Direct contact with the body of someone who has died of Ebola.

The Ebola virus is a dangerous virus that continues to kill many people during each outbreak. The epidemiological investigation continues to figure out the animal source of this outbreak in Guinea.

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