The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is the world’s deadliest to date. According to the UN, 887 people have died as health officials in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone struggle to control the virus.
What is Ebola?
Ebola is a viral illness of which the initial symptoms can include a sudden fever, intense weakness, muscle pain and a sore throat, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). And that is just the beginning: subsequent stages are vomiting, diarrhoea and – in some cases – both internal and external bleeding.
The disease infects humans through close contact with infected animals, including chimpanzees, fruit bats and forest antelope.
It then spreads between humans by direct contact with infected blood, bodily fluids or organs, or indirectly through contact with contaminated environments. Even funerals of Ebola victims can be a risk, if mourners have direct contact with the body of the deceased.
The incubation period can last from two days to three weeks, and diagnosis is difficult. The human disease has so far been mostly limited to Africa, although one strain has cropped up in the Philippines.
Healthcare workers are at risk if they treat patients without taking the right precautions to avoid infection.
People are infectious as long as their blood and secretions contain the virus – in some cases, up to seven weeks after they recover.