2021 Ebola Outbreaks: What to Know About the Bloodborne Pathogen
The 2021 Ebola outbreaks remind us that education is essential when it comes to staying safe. The bloodborne pathogens associated with the Ebola virus are responsible for killing thousands of people since its discovery in 1972. In this article, we review the basics of the bloodborne disease. Continue reading if you want to feel prepared for the most recent outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus.
What Is Ebola?
Ebola is among the deadliest of bloodborne diseases. It is also rarely seen in most parts of the world. Scientists linked the following viruses to Ebola:
- Bombali virus
- Bundibugyo virus*
- Ebola virus*
- Reston virus
- Sudan virus*
- TaÃ¯ Forest virus*
All of these viruses belong to the genus Ebolavirus, though only the four marked with (*) have caused illness in humans. As with other bloodborne pathogens, virus transmission occurs between humans and animals through bodily fluids. The virus affects both humans and nonhuman primates. Examples of nonhuman primates include gorillas and chimpanzees.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms of Ebola may start appearing in the span of a couple of days after infection, but they may take as long as 3 weeks to emerge. On average, a person will start experiencing symptoms between 8 and 10 days after exposure. The initial signs of infection from Ebola include sore throat, fever, fatigue, and achiness. As the disease advances, other symptoms appear like diarrhea vomiting. Depending on the affected person's immune system, Ebola can also lead to death up to 49 days after infection. Ebola can be mistaken for other diseases such as influenza, malaria, or typhoid fever. This is due to the similarity of the symptoms, making diagnosis by a medical professional important.
It's difficult to diagnose someone with the Ebola virus in the early stages of infection because the symptoms are similar to other, more common diseases. It helps if the person knows if they were exposed to the disease within the previous 21 days. To confirm infection, the medical team must collect samples of the patient's blood. The virus is evident in blood after symptoms set in. Prior to this, there likely won't be enough of the virus spread through the blood at the time of collection.
Ebola virus transmission occurs through contact with infected bodily fluids. This includes blood, saliva, semen, and breast milk, as well as others. It's also possible to contract Ebola through contaminated objects. Researchers believe the virus can last several days outside of the body. If the virus comes into contact with broken skin or mucous membranes, you are at a higher risk of contraction. Spreading Ebola can occur between people or animals whether alive or dead. Experts are currently uncertain how long it remains in the body. For this reason, it's essential to take special care around those infected with Ebola and even those that have successfully recovered from it.
Fortunately, there are treatments to help with bloodborne pathogens such as the Ebola virus. The two treatments approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are made of Monoclonal antibodies (mAbs). These mAbs are scientifically engineered proteins that prevent the Ebola virus from being able to replicate. It does this by latching onto the surface of the virus so it can no longer enter the body's cells. Scientists utilized and studied these treatments in an outbreak in 2018-2020 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The FDA approved the use of the medications in both adults and children. However, the FDA's approval is only for the Zaire ebolavirus (listed as the Ebola virus in the list of viruses above). This is because the study performed in 2018-2020 only included treatment of this virus.
If treatment is not available or somehow inaccessible, supportive care can make a difference when it comes to survival, especially if provided early on. The most important aspects of supportive care include fluid therapy with electrolytes, medication to treat vomiting and diarrhea, and treating infections as needed. The fluid therapy helps hydrate the body as well as support blood pressure. However, the medical team may decide that medication is more appropriate to help with blood pressure.
Getting supportive care early and consistently as well as the patient's immune system's response to the virus are factors in a person's ability to survive and recover. It's uncommon for survivors of the Ebola virus to end up reinfected, as they develop antibodies that can last around 10 years or more. However, that doesn't mean they don't have lasting effects. Patients report ongoing issues such as headaches, weight issues, decreased appetites, pain in their muscles and joints, and other mild symptoms. They can also experience more severe symptoms such as memory loss, hearing loss, vision problems, and inflammation of heart tissue. Ongoing treatment with a medical facility can help manage these symptoms. Scientists continue studying the long-term results of infection.
History of Ebola
The Ebola virus disease was originally named Ebola hemorrhagic fever upon its discovery in 1976. At the time, there were two outbreaks in Central Africa of two different viruses (both resulting in Ebola virus transmission). While the exact cause is unclear, it's thought to relate to more frequent interactions with wildlife, such as consuming infected bushmeat after coming into contact with their bodily fluids. Population growth was also spreading Ebola. The different varieties of bloodborne pathogens spread throughout Africa after the discovery. The continuous reuse of contaminated medical equipment made spreading Ebola much quicker.
The Role of NonHuman Primates
One of the viruses, Reston ebolavirus, spread through one of the populations of monkeys via air transmission. However, aerosolized transmission, as it's known, does not appear to be a factor in the outbreaks of Ebola among human populations. It's more likely the disease spread through contact with bodily fluids. The monkeys discovered with Reston ebolavirus were first discovered in 1989 from the Philippines. This was one of the first realizations that the Ebola virus was no longer confined to Africa. After this, the virus took only months to become a global pandemic. As with COVID-19 in today's society, both medical professionals and the general public were urged to wear personal protective equipment (PPV) to minimize virus transmission.
Since its discovery in 1976, there have been many notable outbreaks of the virus. These outbreaks ranged in the number of deaths from 4 to 11,325. The worst and most recent outbreaks occurred in 2014-2016 and 2018-2020.
2014 saw the most widespread outbreak of the Ebola virus disease in history with 11,325 deaths across 10 countries. The hardest-hit countries included Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, where 11,310 people died during the 2-year epidemic. The infection started in a young boy, only 1.5 years old, from a village in Guinea. He received his infection from bats. After seven months, the spreading Ebola epidemic resulted in a declaration of a Public Health Emergency of International Concern by the World Health Organization.
After the horrific outbreak in 2014, government officials reported a new outbreak in North Kivu Province on August 1, 2018. This was the second-largest outbreak of the Ebola virus in history, but it was the worst for the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This period saw 3,470 reported cases and 2,287 deaths. By June 25, 2020, the WHO declared the outbreak over.
Ebola in 2021
Amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic, the DRC reported a new case of Ebola virus disease in North Kivu Province on February 7, 2021. Then, they saw the bloodborne pathogens spreading and creating additional cases. Studies of patient samples link it to the 2020 Ebola outbreak. Scientists believe it may have been caused by a persistent infection in a survivor. After May 2, 2021, no additional cases emerged, patients received authorization to leave the Ebola treatment center, and the government deemed the outbreak over. However, reports dating from August 19, 2021 state 58 people are in quarantine in the country of Guinea. This occurred after a young Guinean woman was diagnosed with the Ebola virus in Ivory Coast. Now, nine additional cases have been noted in the area.
Prevention of Bloodborne Pathogens
The best way to battle against bloodborne pathogens such as the Ebola virus is to know how to prevent them. Taking special care when traveling to countries where Ebola is present is especially important. Since bloodborne diseases are spread through blood and bodily fluids, it's important to avoid any contact with those substances from people who are sick with the virus or suspected to be sick. The same can be said for potentially contaminated items. Other safety measures include avoiding burial practices involving touching the body of someone who had the Ebola virus and avoiding contact with wild animals known for spreading Ebola, such as bats, forest antelopes, and nonhuman primates.
Staying Healthy and Moving Forward
Education is an essential tool when it comes to battling against bloodborne pathogens. Being aware of the process of virus transmission and how to prevent it, such as avoiding bodily fluids, can help keep you and the people you care about safe.