Sunday 3 August 2014

Ebola can be asymptomatic for weeks.

Ebola can be asymptomatic for weeks, it has emerged.

‘The Ebola virus has an incubation period of 4 to 16 days. The onset is sudden and harsh. Infected persons develop fever, severe headaches and muscle aches, and loss of appetite. Within a few days the virus causes a condition known as disseminated intravascular coagulation, which is marked by both blood clots and hemorrhaging. In the case of Ebola fever, clots are concentrated in the liver, spleen, brain, and other internal organs, forcing capillaries to bleed into surrounding tissue. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea with blood and mucus, conjunctivitis, and sore throat soon follow. A maculopapular rash (discoloured elevations of the skin) appears on the trunk and quickly spreads to the limbs and head. The patient is then beset by spontaneous bleeding from body orifices and any breaks in the skin, such as injection sites, and within the gastrointestinal tract, skin, and internal organs. Death is usually brought on by hemorrhaging, shock, or renal failure and occurs within 8 to 17 days.’

("Ebola." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Deluxe Edition. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2012.)

According to the Oxford English dictionary the phrase Ebola Fever entered the English language in 1976. It was named after a river located in the northern basin of the Congo of central Africa (Encyclopaedia Britannica), the northerly Ebola river, headstream of the Mongala river which itself is a tributary of the famous Congo River, all of which are in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Wikipedia). Wikipedia places the Ebola river at: 3°19′24″N 20°57′38″E. Oxford describes Ebola, also known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever as “an infectious, and generally fatal viral disease marked by fever and severe internal bleeding.”

Encyclopaedia Britannica calls the Ebola virus a close relative of the Marburg virus. The Marburg virus was discovered in 1967 while records show that Ebola first attacked human beings in 1976. Marburg and Ebola haemorrhagic fever are the only members of the Filoviridae viral family to affect human beings. The same Ebola virus is known for attacking gorillas, chimpanzees, pigs and our own species, humanity. Ebola is differentiated by deep fever, profuse haemorrhaging and rash. Encyclopaedia Britannica states that in humans certain strains have fatality rates of 50 to 90%.

Just as Ebola itself is named after the place it was first discovered wreaking harm upon a population, the Ebola river: the five known strains of the deadly virus are named after the places where it emerged. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica: ‘Ebola-Zaire causes death in 80 to 90 percent of cases, and Ebola-Sudan causes death in 50 percent of cases. Ebola-Côte d'Ivoire, found in dead chimpanzees in the Taï National Park in southwestern Côte d'Ivoire, can infect humans, although only two human cases have been documented, and both individuals survived. Ebola-Reston, which was originally discovered in laboratory monkeys in Reston, Va., in 1989, was also detected in laboratory monkeys in other locations in the United States in 1990 and 1996, as well as in Siena, Italy, in 1992. All the monkeys infected with Ebola-Reston have been traced to one export facility located in the Philippines, although the origin of the strain has not been identified. Similar to Ebola-Côte d'Ivoire, Ebola-Reston does not appear to cause death in humans. The fifth strain, Ebola-Bundibugyo, was discovered in November 2007 in an outbreak in Bundibugyo district, near the border of Uganda and Congo (Kinshasa); it causes death in about 25 percent of cases.’ (Same article as quoted above.).

The first time I reported on the Ebola virus was on 6 January 2009. The epidemic had broken out in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, killing 13 and infecting 40. Angola shut the border quickly for fear it would spread. I reported how swiftly diseases cross African borders. At the time I was writing that article a disease from a Namibian rat had killed several people in South Africa and a cholera epidemic was hitting Zimbabwe. The strain of Ebola during the 2009 outbreak was killing one in every three people. Most outbreaks of the disease seem to only infect and kill either one or two people, a few dozen or a few hundred. When a form of Ebola present in pork products in the Philippines was discovered to have infected agricultural workers, the nation authorised the slaughter of thousands of animals. Just a few dozen infections can cause a border to close, the current epidemic has passed 1000 infected people and is set to pass an even higher number shortly.

News services concerned with Africa, have been covering the current outbreak with deep concern. In West Africa, superstition about witchcraft and witches continues to pervade society. It is the type of place where a cat might be crucified for fear it is a witch in disguise. News services reported that several villagers had begun to believe that the doctors treating Ebola were causing the disease.

Those who enjoy the works of JRR Tolkien, will be familiar with a scene where Gandalf the Grey is treated with deep suspicion, because he always comes where something is wrong. The people thought perhaps he was the cause of the wrongness. He was merely there to try and prevent it. One of the great written linguistic traditions of humanity comes from China, where the written work came from omens in bones. Signs of the supernatural can pervade human thinking. During the plague it was believed that spraying oneself with toilet water could spare one from the disease. Of course, toilet water, refers not to something present in a toilet but a certain form of low scented perfume, also known as eau du toilette. People believed that foul smell itself spread the horrid disease, rather than only being a symptom of it. Belief in vampires also came from that period, the plague dead often appeared to move in their state of decomposition.

Media have relayed how African villagers see a white person and go running away in fear, shouting ‘Ebola Ebola.’ With doctors unable to treat victims and ordinary nurses and others claiming to have a cure for Ebola, the virus has spread further and further.

According to Encyclopaedia Britannica: ‘It is not known how the Ebola virus attacks cells; however, it has been postulated that the virus produces proteins that suppress the immune system, allowing reproduction of the virus to continue unhindered. Viral hemorrhagic fevers similar to Ebola typically are carried by arthropods and rodents; however, the natural reservoir for the Ebola virus has yet to be discovered. Among the suspected reservoirs for Ebola are bats, primates, rodents, and insects that inhabit tropical forests in Africa and Asia. Ebola can be transmitted through contact with infected blood, bodily fluids, and possibly respiratory secretions. The virus has also been detected in the organs of patients after recovery from the fever. Unsanitary conditions and lack of adequate medical supplies may be factors in the spread of the disease.’

While not all people who are infected with Ebola are assured a swift and horrible death, the Church of medical science has yet to create a miracle treatment. Encyclopaedia Britannica relays that while there have been tests of possible medical treatments, the current approach is anything but high-tech. Doctors ensure that a sufferer has enough fluids in their system, and attempt to maintain their important electrolyte balance, while giving transfusions of blood and plasma to prevent a person bleeding out.

While Britain has called an urgent meeting for fear that Ebola will take root in its own population, the Republic of South Africa has attempted to keep calm. It is claimed by the government of South Africa whether factually or not that South Africans are at very low risk of contracting Ebola due to thermal scanners at the borders. The government also claims that someone who is infected with Ebola would find it hard to illegally enter South Africa. Whether these thermal scanners will pick up Ebola when it is only incubating and asymptomatic is questionable. Likewise, an asymptomatic person could easily enter South Africa illegally via an ordinary penetration of the border. South Africa is a safe haven for refugees, and a mecca for illegal immigrants. We certainly are more at risk of an epidemic in South Africa than Britain is. We are closer to the epidemic.

The World Health Organization has called the Ebola haemorrhagic fever epidemic “out of control”, as it is spreading further than it can be contained. Because the people who are being infected with it are avoiding those who can slow down the virus and also isolate them, the perfect conditions are ripe for something terrible to occur. Whether this event will be a small localised event of graphic tragedy, or follow the path of the Spanish flu or the Black Death depends largely on whether or not the virus can be brought under control. The current news is disquieting, it is not being brought under control, and has spread further than Ebola ever has before.

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