New Ebola Cases Raise Concern of Potential New Outbreak

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Three new cases of Ebola have been confirmed in Liberia, following the death of a teenager from the virus on June 28 and after the West African nation had been declared Ebola Free back in May. News headlines point to both the alarm that these new cases raise as well as the improvements in monitoring, and hopefully rapid public health response to trace and contain the contagion. This new outbreak comes after more than 11,000 people have died of Ebola since December 2013, the vast majority of them in the West African nations of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. In response to these new cases, Liberia has declared quarantine zones in the area where the new cases were discovered.

ebola*Ebola image credit: National Post

The WHO reports that there were 20 confirmed cases of Ebola virus infection reported in the last week of June, the same as the previous week bringing the weekly case incidence to between 20 and 27 new cases for five consecutive weeks now. WHO reports that there have been 27,443 reported confirmed, probable, and suspected cases of Ebola infection in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone (with 11,220 reported deaths.) Twelve new confirmed cases were reported in Guinea and 8 in Sierra Leone in the last week of June. The total number of confirmed cases is similar in males and females. Compared with children (people aged 14 years and under), adults aged 15 to 44 are approximately four times more likely to be affected in Guinea and Liberia, and three times more likely to be affected in Sierra Leone. Thus far, 874 confirmed health worker infections have been reported in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone and among these there have been 509 reported deaths.

The WHO warns that the introduction of an Ebola case into unaffected countries remains a risk as long as cases exist in any country.

Ebola (previously called Ebola haemorrhagic fever) is a severe, often fatal illness in humans (WHO.) The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission (WHO). The average Ebola fatality rate is around 50%. Case fatality rates have varied from 25% to 90% in past outbreaks (WHO). The first Ebola outbreaks occurred in remote villages in Central Africa, near tropical rainforests, but the most recent outbreak in West Africa has involved major urban as well as rural areas (WHO).

According to the CDC Symptoms of Ebola include fever, severe headache, muscle pain, weakness, fatigue, diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal (stomach) pain, unexplained hemorrhage (bleeding or bruising). These symptoms may appear anywhere from 2 to 21 days after exposure to Ebola, but the average is 8 to 10 days.

The Ebola virus can spread in a population (Transmission). The pathway in which the virus first appears in a human at the start of an outbreak is unknown. However, the CDC believe that the first patient becomes infected through contact with an infected animal, such as a fruit bat or primate (apes and monkeys), which is called a “spillover event.” Person-to-person transmission follows and can lead to large numbers of affected people.

The CDC explains that when an infection occurs in humans, the virus spreads to others through direct contact (through broken via skin or mucous membranes in, for example, the eyes, nose, or mouth)   with blood or body fluids. Ebola is not spread through the air, by water, or in general, by food. Healthcare providers caring for Ebola patients and family and friends in close contact with Ebola patients are at the highest risk of getting sick because they may come in contact with infected blood or body fluids. During outbreaks of Ebola, the disease can spread quickly within healthcare settings (such as a clinic or hospital).

Ebola remains a potentially lethal epidemic and pandemic risk. One of the most important aspects of pandemic preparedness is communication planning. Public agencies and health sector organizations obviously have challenging communication tasks for which to properly plan and prepare. Likewise, private sector business, schools, non-for-profit and non-governmental agencies have significant pandemic communication tasks for which to prepare as well. A pandemic, whether Ebola or some other infectious agent, not only threats health and well-being of large populations but also would create continuity disruptions including breaking supply chains, disrupting transportation, weakening infrastructure, precluding normal business operations, workforce high absenteeism, as well as numerous economic and social disruptions. Thorough pandemic preparation includes sophisticated communication planning. Fortunately, there are resources available to assist everyone in advancing their preparedness.

To learn more a about Pandemic Planning for your organization, visit here.


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