The elusive Ebola virus has made itself known again, this time in areas of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. With no cure and no vaccine for the disease, medical professionals are putting their own lives at risk when they care for their ill patients. While Ebola is the stuff of horror films and nightmares, medical professionals do their best to ensure that as many lives as possible are saved, while at the same time working to halt the spread of this often fatal infection.
What Is Ebola?
Ebola is a virus named after a river in Central Africa. The virus causes a severe and often deadly infection in chimpanzees, gorillas and humans. Two days to three weeks after infection, those who are infected develop symptoms such as a fever and headache. Symptoms gradually worsen as the virus interferes with the clotting of blood. Profuse vomiting and diarrhea and bleeding from orifices can result in death in up to 90 percent of those infected. According to an article on CBC News, there are five strains of this deadly virus. The strains are Bundibugyo, Ivory Coast, Reston, Sudan and Zaire. The Reston strain is not known to cause human illness, but it is deadly to primates. The other four strains can all cause human death.
How Do Doctors and Medical Professionals Fight Ebola Virus Disease?
Medical personnel are not sure what the natural host of Ebola is, which makes development of treatments or vaccinations difficult. According to this article on CNN, most Ebola patients die within 10 days of developing symptoms. Doctors and other medical staff primarily treat patients with rehydration therapy to replace lost fluids from the vomiting and diarrhea. They may also provide medications to help restore proper blood clotting.
The Guinea Outbreak
What’s unique about the current Guinea outbreak is that the patients are spread out around a wide area. In past outbreaks of Ebola, the patients were mostly located in one place or a few close villages. However, this outbreak includes Guinea’s capital city where more than 2 million people live. Since the outbreak began in March, over 560 cases of Ebola were reported to health authorities, and, of those, 350 patients have died from the infection, according to the Center for Disease Control. Early treatment has lead to a death rate of just 60 percent in this outbreak, compared to the typical 90 percent rate.
How Medical Professionals Protect Themselves
Because Ebola is transmitted from person to person through bodily fluids, medical professionals must take extreme caution in caring for their patients. Before touching patients, physicians and other staff remove their regular clothes and change into their protective gear, which includes a layers of impermeable gear. They must wear protective scrubs, gloves, face masks and goggles to avoid coming into contact with bodily fluids. The profuse diarrhea, vomiting and bleeding of patients only adds to the challenge. They are then able to enter the isolation wards where patients are housed. Supplies and linens are incinerated after use.