With the ‘very serious risk’ that the ebola outbreak could spread to Britain, just what exactly is this disease and why can’t it be contained?
What is ebola?
First discovered in Africa in 1976, ebola is a highly contagious virus which is spread to humans from contact with bats or apes. It is thought that the virus originated in the bat population. There is currently no vaccine or cure for ebola – the only way to survive is for your own body to fight the disease off, and fatality rates can be as high as 90 per cent. There are five strains of ebola. The most deadly, the Zaire strain, is involved in the latest outbreak in Africa. Ebola is transmitted through direct contact with blood or bodily fluids of an infected person or animal.
What does it do to the body?
If you’re squeamish, skip this part. There’s a reason people are so frightened of this ebola outbreak. Early symptoms of the virus include high fever, weakness, muscle pain, headaches and a sore throat. The virus then forms clots in the bloodstream, which affect the skin and internal organs. It moves on to attack the liver, kidneys, brain, intestine and eyes. External bleeding can occur, which is one of the reasons this disease is so difficult to treat without medical staff contracting the virus. In the final stages the virus causes internal bleeding, and patients often die from renal failure, blood loss or shock, all within days of symptoms appearing.
What’s happening in Africa at the moment?
The worst ebola outbreak on record is currently occurring in West Africa. Almost 730 people have died at the last count. The local populations are very afraid, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) is having trouble getting locals to comply with all the regulations being put in place to try and stop the spread of this disease. One of the biggest risks is families reclaiming the bodies of deceased individuals for traditional burial ceremonies, as the bodies are still contagious. There are recorded cases of funeral attendees catching the virus from the body of the person being mourned.
Some communities have also staged roadblocks to halt ambulances, and some are protesting outside hospitals and clinics. This is because the hysteria caused by the virus has led to the spread of rumours. People are blaming foreigners for bringing in the virus, and some treatment facilities have had to evacuate foreign aid workers.
Why should we be worried in Australia?
The Foreign Secretary of Britain, Philip Hammond, has announced that the ebola outbreak in West Africa poses a “very serious threat” to Britain, and if the virus spreads outside of Africa to Britain, the risk of it spreading to Australia naturally increases. England’s public health authority has warned that the virus is out of control. There are currently no known cases of the virus in Britain, but health professionals have been warned to stay vigilant.
The Director of Global Health at Public Health England, Dr Brian McCloskey, said the group was closely monitoring developments in west Africa.
“It’s clear the outbreak is not under control,” he said in a statement. “We will continue to assess the situation and provide support as required.”
He did, however, add that “the risk of a traveller going to West Africa and contracting ebola remains very low, since ebola is transmitted by direct contact with the blood or bodily fluids of an infected person.”