Many of you have probably heard the dire warnings about the Ebola Virus.
Since early this year it has quickly spread through Central and Western Africa, to date killing 1,069 people and infecting well over a thousand more (ref. 1 and 2). But it was the death of a U.S. citizen in Nigeria at the end of July which as has prompted fears that the disease could be carried across international borders by air travellers, and cause what some claim to be a “Catastrophic Pandemic” (ref. 3).
The Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Margaret Chan also warned that: “This outbreak is moving faster than our efforts to control it. If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences can be catastrophic in terms of lost lives but also severe socioeconomic disruption and a high risk of spread to other countries.” (ref 4)
This urgency was reinforced on July 31 by President Obama when he signed an amendment to an Executive Order titled “Revised List of Quarantinable Communicable Diseases” (ref. 5). This allows him to mandate the apprehension and detention of Americans who merely show signs of “respiratory illness.”
Given this reaction to the Ebola virus, should we be worried? Or is the threat of Ebola exaggerated and reminiscent of the Swine flu frenzy? (See Warren Matthews blog for our view about the Swine flu – ref. 6).
This blog aims to establish the facts about the Ebola situation so you can make an informed decision. It deliberately does not discuss the growing but unproven ‘Conspiracy theories’ about this outbreak.
What exactly is the Ebola virus?
The Ebola virus was first seen in two 1976 outbreaks in Africa. Ebola gets its name from the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo where the disease first appeared.
According to the WHO (ref. 7), the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, is a severe acute viral illness, originally spread by fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelopes, and porcupines. It has been suggested that large Ebola outbreaks occur often in West and Central Africa due to the locals' practice of hunting and eating meat from wild animals often infected with the virus. It then spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission.
Genus Ebola virus comprises 5 species 3 of which are known to have caused large Ebola outbreaks in humans.
The good news is that unlike other viruses, Ebola doesn't change significantly over time, and it is a “known quantity”. As Dr Michael Osterholm a biosecurity expert and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota (ref. 8) says "The Ebola virus today is acting the same way Ebola viruses have always acted."
Critically, this means that the severity of the current Ebola outbreak is not because the virus itself has become any worse. Rather, it is because Ebola is mostly occurring in places with poor health infrastructure, and amongst people with compromised health and immunity.
Dr Osterholm also makes the key point that “Although the virus hasn’t changed, “Africa has changed….. Residents of the affected countries travel much farther and have many more contacts than they did in previous decades. Also funeral traditions in Africa frequently involve washing the body before it is buried, which can mean contact with blood and other infectious bodily fluids.”
Is Ebola Contagious – how exactly does it spread?
Infection mostly appears to result from direct contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people.
The incubation period (the time from first infection with the virus to onset of symptoms, is 2 to 21 days with 8-10 days being the most common.
Some sources (ref. 9) suggest that Ebola is not contagious because it doesn't travel through the air like the flu and other respiratory illnesses. Thus, it is unlikely that one could catch Ebola from simply being on the same plane, or in the same public space with someone who was affected.
This is also the view of the scientist who discovered the Ebola virus in 1976, Professor Peter Piot, the director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (ref. 10).
He says that the disease, although “aggressive” – with a possible 90% fatality rate in some circumstances – “Is in theory easy to contain because you need really close contact to become infected. So just being on the bus with someone with Ebola, that’s not a problem…it’s not transmitted through, you know, droplets and so on. So it is really something that in theory is easy to contain.'
Other sources disagree with this view!
Dr Derek Gatherer of the University of Lancaster (ref. 11) claims the virus is as infectious as flu. He says that “Anyone on the same plane could have become infected because Ebola is easy to catch.”
He doesn’t substantiate his opinion, but a 2012 study published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature (ref. 12) may support his view. Researchers discovered that Ebola had transferred from one cage of pigs to another cage of macaque monkeys without direct contact. Though the exact mode of transfer was not determined, airborne transmission via contaminated fluid vapour or micro-droplets was believed to be the most likely explanation.
This suggests that Ebola may be airborne when micro-droplet fluids containing it are suspended in the air, such as when an infected person sneezes or coughs.
I suggest that this is a possibility only, not a proven fact. The study did not specify HOW the virus was transmitted. Also caution must be used when drawing conclusions from just one study of animals.
Having carefully researched the various perspectives, I suggest that the severity of the virus’s impact on each individual who becomes infected is likely to be heavily determined by the immune and general health of that person and their ability to fight disease. This ability is severely compromised in those locations (i.e. Central/West Africa) where the sanitary, medical and general health infrastructures are poor.
What are the Symptoms and How is Ebola Diagnosed?
EVD is often characterized by the sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. This is usually followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding.
The challenge with Ebola is that such symptoms, especially at the onset, are very similar to other viral haemorrhagic fevers. These may include malaria, typhoid fever, cholera, meningitis and hepatitis.
This makes early accurate diagnosis challenging.
Currently, the most reliable tests are very dependent on when they are taken as explained here by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention – CDC (ref. 13).
Is EVD Fatal or can One Recover? Are there Vaccines?
Some sources claim that Ebola is: “a deadly disease with a fatality rate of up to 90%” (ref. 14).
So far this has been seen only in extreme cases within Central and West Africa where hygiene, medical facilities and immediate treatment were very poor.
As suggested in no 2 above, it is likely that the severity of the virus is greatly influenced by the immune and general health of the infected person and their ability to fight disease. Recovery is also more likely where the sanitary, medical and general health infrastructures, and access to them, are good.
Currently, there are no licensed vaccines for EVD. Several are being tested, but none are available for proven safe clinical use.
An experimental drug known as ZMapp, manufactured by the San Diego-based drug company Mapp Pharmaceuticals, has already been given to two Americans who recently returned from Liberia infected with Ebola. As they seem to be improving at this point, many are calling on WHO to alter its guidelines to allow this drug and others to be given without proper human testing. Another prominent company working on an Ebola vaccine is Tekmira Pharmaceuticals.
How Can EVD in Humans be Prevented?
There are several ways to minimize the risk of catching and spreading the virus.
Education by relevant authorities:
This involves raising awareness about how Ebola is caused and transmitted, and about the protective measures individuals can take. This particularly relates to Central and Western Africa. But ultimately, all of us must take responsibility for avoiding known risk factors such as:
- Travel to infected areas
- Close contact with infected people, particularly with their bodily fluids.
- No use of protective clothing / equipment when caring for infected people at home.
- Poor general hygiene (like not washing hands regularly)
Medical / sanitation provision by relevant authorities:
This is a mammoth task particularly in those African regions suspicious of Western medicine. The WHO has already initiated a $100 million emergency response, which includes sending hundreds of extra medical personnel (ref. 4).
Build a strong immune system and robust general health
I have suggested above that the severity of the virus is likely to be greatly influenced by the immune and general health of the infected person and their ability to fight disease.
This means that rather than panic on hearing any misleading media information, please reduce your risk of infection by following a balanced lifestyle and boost your immunity levels as much as possible.
To boost your immunity, and general health, you may wish to consider a daily supplement Protocol using Xtend-Life products, if you have not already. Starting with our Total Balance products, this can provide a foundation of health that can help optimise your resistance to diseases generally.
Remember that even if you come into direct contact with an infected person, their symptoms may not be obvious. Or they may represent some other fever. So please don’t panic, and do take sensible precautions. If in doubt, please consult with your local medical practitioner.
- Ebola death toll as of Aug 7 2014 reported by CNN and The World Health Organisation (WHO) http://edition.cnn.com/2014/08/06/health/africa-ebola-outbreak/index.html
- Ebola death toll as of Aug 16 2014 claimed by the WHO http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2014/08/201481521553427938.html
- Ebola – Catastrophic Pandemic
- Media reports of the WHO perspective http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/ebola-crisis-head-world-health-organisation-warns-global-catastrophe-epidemic-spirals-out-1459403 and http://www.pressherald.com/2014/08/01/world-health-organization-ebola-moving-faster-than-control-efforts/
- Here is a copy of the Executive Order -- Revised List of Quarantinable Communicable Diseases http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/07/31/executive-order-revised-list-quarantinable-communicable-diseases
- For Warren’s blog about the Swine flu please see http://blog.xtend-life.com/warren_matthews_blog/2009/5/1/swine-flu-cause-for-concern-or-just-more-nonsense.html
- The World Health Organisation’s explanation of the Ebola virus http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs103/en/
- The view of Dr Michael T. Osterholm http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/what-we-need-to-fight-ebola/2014/08/01/41f4dbb8-182d-11e4-9349-84d4a85be981_story.html
- This source suggests that Ebola does not travel through the air likemost respiratory illnesses, so is not easily contagious. http://www.vox.com/2014/7/31/5952515/facts-you-should-know-about-the-ebola-outbreak
- Prof Peter Piot says that although Ebola is aggressive, in theory it is easy to contain. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2710285/Ebola-test-feverish-man-flew-Britain-West-Africa-doctors-red-alert-deadly-virus.html
- Dr Derek Gatherer of the University of Lancaster claims the virus is as infectious as flu. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2710285/Ebola-test-feverish-man-flew-Britain-West-Africa-doctors-red-alert-deadly-virus.html
- This study shows the transmission of Ebola virus from pigs to non-human primates http://www.nature.com/srep/2012/121115/srep00811/full/srep00811.html
- The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explain how Ebola is diagnosed http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/diagnosis/index.html
- Some sources claim that Ebola is “a deadly disease with a fatality rate of up to 90%”