What you need to know about the Ebola Virus Disease

Jul 26, 2019
On July 17, 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). In their statement, the WHO called upon the international community to take notice of the situation, work together with the DRC to end the latest outbreak (declared on August 1, 2018) and build a better health care system.

As Canadians living half a world away from the DRC, it may be difficult to understand why fighting Ebola is a matter that concerns us all. But as you read about the virus and how easily it can spread from one person to another, you’ll find that we’re not as immune to the disease as you might think.
  1. What is Ebola?
  2. What are the symptoms of Ebola?
  3. Is Ebola treatable?
  4. How does Ebola spread?
  5. How does Ebola affect children?
  6. What is World Vision doing about Ebola?
  7. What can I do to help people affected by Ebola?

1. What is Ebola?
Ebola is a rare but often deadly virus that can be transmitted from infected animals to humans or from person to person. The Ebola virus damages the immune system and organs, causing fever, body aches, diarrhea and sometimes severe, uncontrollable internal and external bleeding. This contagious disease kills up to 90 per cent of those who are infected.

A woman holding a baby and a small boy sit in front of a wooden home with water buckets next to them.Grace with her children in their home in Beni, Democratic Republic of Congo. She received hygiene kits from World Vision International in an effort to prevent Ebola in the area. Photo: Patrick Meinhardt

2. What are the symptoms of Ebola?
Ebola virus symptoms appear any time from two to 21 days after exposure, typically in days eight to ten. Once infected, a person can experience sudden bouts of
  • fever,
  • weakness,
  • muscle pain,
  • headache, and
  • sore throat.
Without proper laboratory testing, these and other non-specific early symptoms of Ebola can be mistaken for serious diseases like malaria and typhoid fever, or even pregnancy. Laboratory testing accomplishes two things:
  1. It helps limit the spread of Ebola by identifying infected patients and treating them as soon as possible; and
  2. It helps patients who tested negative for Ebola to receive proper diagnosis and medical treatment for their symptoms.

The above symptoms are often followed by vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain, which may progress to
  • altered mental status,
  • shock,
  • multi-organ failure,
  • abdominal bleeding,
  • red eyes,
  • hiccups,
  • chest pains, and
  • difficulty breathing and swallowing.

3. Is Ebola treatable?
Managing symptoms
Until recently, treatment for people infected with the Ebola virus focused on managing their symptoms, starting with medications to reduce pain, fever, vomiting and diarrhea. Ebola patients can experience dehydration due to severe loss of bodily fluids, so keeping them hydrated orally or intravenously is essential to avoiding shock or other serious complications. Patients may also receive
  • anti-anxiety medication,
  • vitamins,
  • therapeutic foods,
  • electrolytes,
  • oxygen,
  • blood pressure medication,
  • blood transfusions, and
  • mental health support to help them face the psychological effects of the illness or cope with the loss of family members from Ebola.
While these measures are not a cure for Ebola, the combination of keeping patients hydrated with oral or intravenous fluids and treatment of their specific symptoms improves their chances of survival.

Hope for a cure
Currently, there is no cure for the Ebola virus, although four investigational drugs, including the Canadian-made vaccine called rVSV-EBOV, are now undergoing clinical trial in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the site of the latest outbreak. This trial uses an ethical framework called the Monitored Emergency Use of Unregistered and Investigational Interventions (MEURI) protocol, which was developed by the World Health Organization, in consultation with experts in the field and the DRC. The trial will evaluate the effectiveness and safety of drugs used in the treatment of Ebola patients. Learn more about this study.

A man from the DRC stands in between colourful curtains.
Pole Pole from the Democratic Republic of Congo was told he had Ebola after one of his children and his sister in law died. He was taken to the Ebola Treatment Center and survived. Photo: Patrick Meinhardt

4. How does Ebola spread?
Healthy humans can become infected with the Ebola virus in the following ways:
  1. Through close contact with the bodily fluids of infected wild animals, such as fruit bats (thought to be natural Ebola virus hosts), chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys, forest antelope or porcupines.
  2. Through direct contact (i.e. broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood or bodily fluids of someone who is sick or has died from Ebola.
  3. By touching objects that have been contaminated with the fluids such as blood, feces or vomit of someone who is sick or has died from Ebola.

Even babies are not safe from the Ebola virus, which can be transmitted from mother to baby in utero, during delivery or through maternal fluids such as breast milk after birth.

Because the early symptoms of Ebola can present as other illnesses like malaria or typhoid, the risk of inadvertently spreading the disease is quite high. Before the more severe symptoms of Ebola can manifest, an undiagnosed, infected patient can encounter dozens of people who in turn may come into contact with dozens more. This makes health care workers particularly vulnerable to infection, especially when infection control methods are not enforced. Wearing protective clothing such as face masks, gloves and boots can help health care staff and caregivers from also becoming infected with the Ebola virus.

Because the Ebola virus remains in the blood after death, certain burial practices, like washing or touching bodies of the deceased, have put family members, faith leaders and other mourners at high risk of infection. Therefore the bodies of those who succumbed to Ebola must be cremated or buried immediately by people who are wearing appropriate protective clothing.

Although the risk of international spread is low, the WHO believes that the risk of the Ebola outbreak spreading to other parts of the DRC and neighbouring countries is very high. They have made recommendations regarding international travel to help mitigate the risk of spreading the virus. The Government of Canada has issued its own set of guidelines for people who choose to travel to the DRC and the surrounding regions, urging travellers to follow all recommendations in order to stay safe.

5. How does Ebola affect children?
These are some of the ways that children in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone were affected during the Ebola virus outbreak of 2014:
  • More than 17,300 children lost one or both parents during the Ebola outbreak.
  • Nearly 20 per cent of all Ebola cases were children under 15 years old.
  • By 2015, school closures in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone caused students to miss approximately 1,800 hours or 33-39 weeks of education.
  • Vaccination campaigns were either postponed to avoid public gatherings or had their funding redirected towards fighting the Ebola epidemic. Children were left with gaps in their vaccination schedules, putting them at risk for other diseases.
  • The psychological impact of Ebola on children is immeasurable. Children who survived Ebola can experience ongoing mental health issues like depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for years to come and may not get the adequate support they need to overcome them.

6. What is World Vision doing about Ebola?
Here are highlights of World Vision’s response to the latest Ebola outbreak in the DRC:
  • 326,565 people were reached by community health workers to raise awareness on prevention and treatment of Ebola and monitor temperatures.
  • 250,000 people reached with messages from faith leaders.
  • 29,845 children, families and communities reached with 11,065 hygiene kits.
  • 400,000 people reached with life-saving humanitarian assistance since August 2018.
  • 90,287 children reached with life saving humanitarian assistance since August 2018.

A woman and two men from the DRC sit in a radio studio recording a radio show.
Religious leaders and World Vision International staff in Beni (DRC) talk on the radio for an hour a couple of times a week to raise awareness about Ebola and to answer any questions listeners may have. Photo: Patrick Meinhardt

Since August 2018, we have been working with communities to improve awareness, prevention and understanding of Ebola, reaching almost a quarter of a million people to date.

We’re relying on expertise from our work during the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone in 2014-2015 to work with church leaders, community health workers and teachers to ensure that
  • patients are being diagnosed correctly and receiving proper care for their Ebola symptoms;
  • family members, caregivers and health care workers are properly equipped to avoid infection;
  • health care facilities remain as sterile and well stocked with medicine and supplies as possible; and
  • people can give their loved ones dignified burials without becoming infected themselves.
Another way we’re helping communities is through our Channels of Hope for Ebola program. Recognizing that faith leaders are among the most influential members in a community, Channels of Hope for Ebola fully equips them to promote accurate and responsible messages about Ebola and helps them to respond with compassion and care for affected people. Through this program,
  • faith communities are engaged in actions that contribute to Ebola prevention, advocacy or care;
  • community knowledge about mechanisms to prevent and treat Ebola increases; and
  • survivors and families are supported and accepted.
Community members learned through their faith leaders that tackling Ebola isn’t about their individual religious or cultural beliefs— it’s about the well-being of all men, women and children in the community. Watch how World Vision helped Muslim and Christian faith leaders present a unified message to their community to reduce fear, promote safe patient care and tackle stigma about Ebola.


7. What can I do to help people affected by Ebola?
Your donation to our Raw Hope program can provide children living in countries stricken with Ebola with the essentials that can help increase their chances of survival: clean water, education, food, health care and shelter. Whether you can give a one-time gift or every month, your support is greatly appreciated.

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