Ebola Virus Spreading at Alarming Rate in West Africa

By on 2:18 PM

Ebola virus is a deadly virus that causes a viral hemorrhagic syndrome resulting in multiple organ failure and fatal bleeding in the majority of cases. Early identification and supportive therapy is key as there is no vaccine to prevent it, nor is there a cure for the symptoms.

The incubation period is 3-21 days, and most people are asymptomatic (without symptoms) when they begin to be contagious. Other hemorrhagic fever viruses include Marburg and Lassa fever, also seen in African countries.

The latest Ebola outbreak, which began in in Guinea in the late winter with just a handful of cases, is now considered a major outbreak in West Africa, affecting more than 900 confirmed patients and approximately 400 suspected cases. Of the roughly 1,300 cases, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported 729 deaths as of July 27. The virus has infected people in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria. WHO is urging drastic action to be taken to prevent the spread of the virus, which could easily spread outside Africa.

Today, with so many people traveling to different countries, the risk of a hemorrhagic fever-like illness such as Ebola to spread is higher than it was 30 years ago when Lassa and Marburg fever were so prevalent.

While the Ebola virus is highly infectious, mainly from infected secretions including saliva, nasal secretions and blood/body fluids, it does not spread in the air. The risk of acquiring it on a plane ride is not as high as the risk for persons taking care of patients inflicted with the disease and possibly coming into contact with body fluids. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and WHO are obviously concerned and keeping a close watch on this evolving crisis. 

The concern in the U.S. is the threat of Ebola entering the country and creating a national outbreak, albeit CDC claims the risk of infectivity is not as severe as influenza (given that exposure to the bodily fluids of an infected person is the most common way to acquire the Ebola virus). Infection control and prevention strategies such as strict contact isolation, particularly in the emergency rooms and wards of hospitals for patients who have traveled from West Africa and are exhibiting possible symptoms, will hopefully diminish the risk of an outbreak.

Infection Control Consulting Services President Phenelle Segal stresses the value in understanding these diseases, how they present, how they spread and control measures to mitigate the risk of transmission.

Phenelle Segal, RN, CIC, FAPIC

Phenelle Segal, RN, CIC, FAPIC, is the founder and president of Infection Control Consulting Services LLC (ICCS). Phenelle has more than 30 years' experience providing customized comprehensive infection control and prevention services to healthcare facilities nationwide. Her services focus on assisting hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, dental office and oral surgery practices, doctor's offices, nursing homes and other organizations with implementing and maintaining an infection control program that: complies with The Joint Commission, AAAHC, Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) and other regulatory agencies; respond to situations of noncompliance; and improve the processes for reducing risk.