There’s an Ebola outbreak in West Africa, but what’s it all about?

The recent Ebola outbreak in Guinea has now spread to distant towns in the country, as well as bordering countries Liberia and Sierra Leone – and it’s causing a lot of panic. So far, there have been 122 reported cases of Ebola infections, and a total of 78 people have died from the virus since January this year. With the disease spreading to neighbouring countries, Senegal has made the decision to close its borders. So why such drastic measures? Well, Ebola is considered to be one of the most deadly viruses in the world – there is no vaccine or cure and it has a very high mortality rate.

Where does Ebola come from?
It’s believed that fruit bats, which are a local delicacy in many west African countries, carry the virus and could be responsible for the current outbreak. This has led to local government implementing a ban on eating any type of fruit bat, until the source of the virus has been established, and the outbreak has been contained.

What symptoms do people get with Ebola?
Ebola starts with very sudden flu-like symptoms which include a high fever with chills, extreme fatigue, body aches, chest pain and severe headaches. Other symptoms include nausea, stomach pain, diarrhoea, vomiting, a very sore throat and a cough. Ebola seems to affect the central nervous system, which explains the advanced stage symptoms of severe headaches, agitation, confusion, seizures, and even coma. The incubation period for Ebola is around 13 days, which means it takes this amount of time between being exposed to the virus and showing the first signs and symptoms of illness.

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How is Ebola spread?
The Ebola virus is transmitted when a person eats meat (usually “bush meat”) that is contaminated with the virus. Fruit bats are the perfect carriers, and they’re also a local delicacy, which could explain why the current outbreak has spread so fast. A person can also become infected if they come into contact with any body fluids from an infected person. Body fluids include blood, vomit and diarrhoea, and this is why health care workers in affected areas wear full hazmat (protective) suits and patients have to be isolated.

Am I at risk of getting Ebola?
We spoke to Dr. Russell from Hello Doctor and he says that you most  likely won’t – unless you’re living in one of the west African countries that we’ve mentioned, and if you eat local delicacies such as fruit bat. You should be VERY cautious if you are travelling in these areas or plan to travel there in the near future. Dr. Russell seriously advises postponing any travel to these areas.

You can read more about the current Ebola outbreak in west Africa on BBC.co.uk and News 24.

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