In 1976, a virus transmitted to people from wild animals and spread in the human population through human to human contact was identified in the rainforest.
Originally known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever it later became known as the Ebola virus disease (EVD).
Since its’ discovery, outbreaks of Ebola have been mostly limited to, and contained within, several West African countries- until recently.
The current outbreak of Ebola is not only the largest and most complex in West Africa since the virus was first discovered, but has spread to other areas of the world primarily because of the vast travel opportunities now available.
Known as a very aggressive virus, Ebola attacks the immune system by infecting immune cells and blocking the ability for the immune system to respond, allowing the virus to get into the lymphatic system and rapidly spread throughout the body.
As has been well documented in the media, Ebola can only be spread between humans through direct contact with the blood, secretions or other bodily fluids of infected people including surfaces and materials- bedding, clothing, etc. – that are contaminated with these fluids. This is why health care officials have emphasized the need for proper infection control techniques and training of health care workers.
Much has also been covered in the media regarding the incubation period of Ebola- generally considered to be between 2 to 21 days, although humans are not considered “infectious” 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 both internal and external bleeding such as oozing from the gums or blood in the stools.
Although there is no proven treatment for Ebola and it is often fatal, particularly in undeveloped areas without access to modern technology, much progress is being made to stop the virus.
Survival is improved with the use of oral or intravenous fluids and the treatment of specific symptoms.
Certain drug therapy has been approved for emergency use- particularly the use of ZMapp which was successfully given at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta to the first two American patients to be treated in the United States.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that there are currently two potential vaccines that are being developed and undergoing human safety testing.
Here in Georgia, an Atlanta company that was developing a H.I.V. vaccine has focused its efforts on Ebola.Working in collaboration with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) the Atlanta company, GeoVax Labs, Inc., hopes to have the vaccines available by 2016.
While the President 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- particularly the CDC- 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, Governor Nathan Deal last week announced the formation of the Ebola Response Team made up 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 coming in contact with Ebola patients in Africa would undergo tougher monitoring measures for symptoms including quarantines for “high-risk” travelers from areas infected by Ebola.Included in this plan would be screening at airports including taking one’s temperature and checking for symptoms.
Of particular concern in the Coastal areas of Georgia has been precautions and monitoring at our Ports.All arriving vessels at the 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 are always 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 actively monitoring vessels coming from West Africa with extra precautions since the beginning of the summer.
Ebola is a serious threat with potential 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.