THE Ebola virus claimed more than 11,300 lives in West Africa when it swept through Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia in the 2013-2016 outbreak.
The World Health Organization has reported new incidences of the highly infectious virus in Uganda, speaking fears that it may be spreading beyond Democratic Republic of Congo. Here's what we know.
Where is the latest outbreak of Ebola?
The current outbreak is largely confined to Congo, where it has killed nearly 1,700 people – more than two-thirds who contracted it – over the past year.
Worryingly, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports three recent confirmed Ebola deaths in neighbouring Uganda, fuelling concerns that the virus may be spreading beyond Democratic Republic of Congo.
In June this year, a five-year-old boy in Uganda died from the virus in the first cross-border case during the current outbreak.
The youngster had travelled across the border into Congo with four family members, including his mother and father, to visit his grandad.
After showing symptoms, including vomiting blood, he was taken to hospital near the border in Uganda where a diagnosis of Ebola was confirmed by the Uganda Virus Institute (UVRI) on June 11.
His grandma also died from the disease, health officials have confirmed.
WHO reported a new incidence of Ebola in Uganda on July 17 telling an expert panel that a Congolese fisherwoman travelled across the border to sell fish at Mpondwe market on July 11, where she had four vomiting incidents before returning to Congo and dying from the virus.
Ebola is highly infectious and spread through body fluids.
The WHO report said 19 other fishmongers were listed as possible contacts in the Uganda death.
It said 44 currency exchange workers had volunteered to be vaccinated, while another 590 fishmongers could be targeted for vaccination.
The first Ebola patient in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo's largest city, Goma, has died, the government said on July 16.
The spread of the virus to Goma, a city of roughly one million people on the border with Rwanda, has raised fears the outbreak, which is already the second deadliest Ebola epidemic ever, could spread more widely.
News of the recent deaths came as the WHO's emergency committee of international experts met for a fourth time, on July 17, to decide if the 11-month outbreak constitutes a "public health emergency of international concern" (PHEIC).
Such a designation would include recommendations for international action and could help unlock funds, which the WHO has said are sorely needed.
It would be only the fifth such designation, after the 2013-2016 West African Ebola epidemic that killed over 11,300 people, the 2009 flu pandemic, polio in 2014 and the Zika virus that caused a spate of birth defects across Latin America.
The outbreak in 2013 was catastrophic, leaving whole communities in ruins, thousands of children orphans and millions facing starvation.
Nearly 30,000 people across the three nations were infected with the disease, which is spread via contact with an infected person's bodily fluids.
From its epicentre in West Africa the epidemic reached Nigeria, Spain, the US and UK, only slowing in June 2016 when the WHO declared the outbreak in Liberia over.
Since then more than 15,500 people have received a new Ebola vaccine, created in response to the crisis.
What is Ebola?
The Ebola virus disease – previously called Ebola haemorrhagic fever – is a viral infection that occurs in humans and primates.
The virus is part of the Filoviridae family, which also includes Marburg virus.
It was first detected in regions close to the River Ebola, which gave the disease its name.
To date, scientists have identified five strains of Ebola – four of which are known to cause disease in humans.
The natural reservoir – or host of the virus – is thought to be the fruit bat.
Non-human primates are a secondary host, and like humans develop fatal symptoms, so are unlikely to be the reservoir.
In spite of the epidemic that swept West Africa from 2013, scientists class Ebola as a virus that has a relatively low infection rate.
During that, the most recent and widespread outbreak, one Ebola patient would typically pass the disease on to another two people.
That is compared with a disease like measles where one case can often lead to 18 new infections.
Where did Ebola come from?
The Ebola virus was first identified by a team of scientists in what was then called Zaire, now known as Democratic Republic of the Congo, in 1976.
Until the last outbreak, the most widespread and deadliest ever, records show regular bursts of Ebola virus did occur.
However, they tended to be confined to villages close to rainforests in Central and West Africa.
Infection has been recorded in humans through contact with infected chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines.
What are the symptoms and mortality rate?
Prior to the 2014 outbreak in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, the mortality rate of the Ebola virus had been between 25 and 89 per cent – with an average of 67 per cent.
During the West African outbreak mortality varied between 25 to 90 per cent.
The virus has an incubation period of two to 21 days, meaning symptoms can take up to three weeks to appear from the time of infection.
Early symptoms of Ebola include:
- muscle pain
- sore throat
They are similar to those of other diseases, making diagnosis tricky in some cases.
Later as the disease progresses, it can cause:
- impaired kidney and liver function
- stomach pain
internal and external bleeding
How is the Ebola virus transmitted?
Ebola is not an airborne disease, and as such it is impossible for a person to become infected by inhaling the same air as a patient.
However, the West African outbreak revealed how infectious the virus can be.
It is spread via a person's bodily fluids.
Coming into a contact with an Ebola patient's blood secretions, organs, sweat, urine, tears, semen and other fluids, can cause the infection to spread.
Those at highest risk are typically healthcare workers, family members of those infected and other people who come into close contact with an infected person.
Sexual transmission can occur, from men to women or men, after a person's symptoms have disappeared and they are declared free from the disease.
As such, world health experts advise abstaining from unprotected sex for up to nine months after being given the all clear – as scientific studies have found traces of Ebola in men's semen after this length of time.
How is Ebola treated?
The health response relies on tracking down people who may have been exposed to the virus and vaccinating them and anybody they have had contact with.
There is no single treatment for the Ebola virus. Rather, patients's symptoms are addressed.
Severely ill patients require intensive supportive care, with intravenous fluids to re-hydrate them.
But it emerged in December 2016 that a new and effective vaccine had been developed by a team in Guinea,
It has not yet been approved by any regulatory bodies but the experimental vaccine has been shown to provide 100 per cent protection against the disease as it was used in the dying days of the last outbreak.
Already a stockpile of 300,000 doses of the medication has been built up should an outbreak flare up again.
Marie-Paule Kieny of the WHO said: "“While these compelling results come too late for those who lost their lives during West Africa’s Ebola epidemic, they show that when the next outbreak hits, we will not be defenceless.
“The world can’t afford the confusion and human disaster that came with the last epidemic.”
Currently the risks are too high to start giving the vaccine to healthy kids and adults not in immediate danger of infection, according to experts.
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