In 1976 in the rainforest, a virus was transmitted to people from wild animals, and it spread through the population via human-to-human contact.
Originally known as ebola hemorrhagic fever, the virus later became known as the ebola virus disease.
Since its discovery, outbreaks of ebola mostly have been limited to and contained within several West African countries — until recently.
The current outbreak of ebola is the largest and most complex in West Africa since the virus first was discovered, and it has spread to other areas of the world, primarily because of the vast travel opportunities now available.
Known as an aggressive virus, ebola attacks by infecting immune cells and blocking the immune system’s ability to respond, allowing the virus to infiltrate the lymphatic system and rapidly spread through the body.
As the media has documented well, ebola only can be spread between humans through direct contact with an infected person’s blood, secretions or other bodily fluids, including surfaces and materials — bedding, clothing, etc. — that are contaminated with such fluids. This is why healthcare officials have emphasized the need for proper infection-control techniques and training of healthcare workers.
Much also has been covered in the media regarding the incubation period of ebola, which generally lasts between two and 21 days, although humans are not considered contagious until they develop symptoms.
The initial symptoms of ebola are sudden in nature and include fever, headache, muscle pain and sore throat. These are followed by vomiting, rash, diarrhea and, in certain cases, internal and external bleeding.
Although there is no proven treatment for ebola and it often is fatal — particularly in undeveloped areas without access to modern technology — much progress is being made to stop the virus.
The survival rate improves with the use of medication to treat specific symptoms and the infusion of fluids.
Certain drug therapies have been approved for emergency use — particularly ZMapp, which was administered at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta to the first two American patients to be treated in the United States. They survived.
The World Health Organization reports that there currently are two potential vaccines being developed and undergoing human-safety testing.
Here in Georgia, an Atlanta company that was developing an HIV vaccine has focused its efforts on Ebola. Working in collaboration with the Center for Disease Control, the Atlanta company, GeoVax Labs Inc., hopes to have the vaccines available by 2016.
While President Barack Obama has appointed an ebola czar, and screening measures have been implemented at five airports around the country, many feel that the federal government’s response has been less than reassuring.
Some governors have taken action themselves in requiring quarantines and restricting flights from certain African countries where the Ebola outbreak is uncontrolled.
In Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal last week announced the formation of the Ebola Response Team, which is comprised of health experts and state officials and charged with the responsibility of developing a plan to prepare our state for possible ebola cases.
He also announced that people who come in contact with ebola patients in Africa will undergo tougher monitoring measures for symptoms, including quarantines for “high-risk” travelers from areas infected by ebola. The plan will include airport screenings, taking passengers’ temperatures and checking for symptoms.
Of particular concern in Coastal Georgia is the monitoring of our ports. All vessels arriving at Georgia ports, including Savannah and Brunswick, are under the jurisdiction of the U. S. Coast Guard and U. S. Customs, Immigration and Border Patrol. These agencies always are checking for ebola and require foreign vessels coming into U. S. ports to notify the Coast Guard at least 96 hours before arrival. The Coast Guard reports that they have been monitoring vessels coming from West Africa with extra precautions since the beginning of the summer.
Ebola is a serious threat with potentially serious consequences. Thankfully, in the state of Georgia, we are taking extra precautions to make certain our citizens are given as much protection as possible.