Ebola hemorrhagic fever
Ebola hemorrhagic fever is a severe, often-fatal disease in humans and nonhuman primates (monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees) that has appeared sporadically since its initial recognition in 1976. The disease is caused by infection with Ebola virus, named after a river in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa, where it was first recognized.
The virus is one of two members of a family of RNA viruses called the Filoviridae. There are five identified subtypes of Ebola virus. Four of the five have caused disease in humans: Ebola-Zaire, Ebola-Sudan, Ebola-Ivory Coast and Ebola-Bundibugyo. The fifth, Ebola-Reston, has caused disease in nonhuman primates, but not in humans.
Infections with Ebola virus are acute. There is no carrier state. Because the natural reservoir of the virus is unknown, the manner in which the virus first appears in a human at the start of an outbreak has not been determined. However, researchers have hypothesized that the first patient becomes infected through contact with an infected animal.
After the first case-patient in an outbreak setting is infected, the virus can be transmitted in several ways. People can be exposed to Ebola virus from direct contact with the blood and/or secretions of an infected person. Thus, the virus is often spread through families and friends because they come in close contact with such secretions when caring for infected persons. People can also be exposed to Ebola virus through contact with objects, such as needles, that have been contaminated with infected secretions.
The incubation period for Ebola HF ranges from 2 to 21 days. The onset of illness is abrupt and is characterized by fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, sore throat, and weakness, followed by diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain. A rash, red eyes, hiccups and internal and external bleeding may be seen in some patients.
Researchers do not understand why some people are able to recover from Ebola HF and others are not. However, it is known that patients who die usually have not developed a significant immune response to the virus at the time of death.
Antigen-capture enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) testing, IgM ELISA, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and virus isolation can be used to diagnose a case of Ebola HF within a few days of the onset of symptoms. Persons tested later in the course of the disease or after recovery can be tested for IgM and IgG antibodies; the disease can also be diagnosed retrospectively in deceased patients by using immunohistochemistry testing, virus isolation, or PCR.
Scientists and researchers are faced with the challenges of developing additional diagnostic tools to assist in early diagnosis of Ebola HF and conducting ecological investigations of Ebola virus and its possible reservoir. In addition, one of the research goals is to monitor suspected areas to determine the incidence of the disease. More extensive knowledge of the natural reservoir of Ebola virus and how the virus is spread must be acquired to prevent future outbreaks effectively.