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ABC of Ebola disease

Guidelines for preparation and response to the possible introduction of cases of ebola virus disease (evd) in Colombia

Given that the Ebola virus is located in the border region between Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the World Health Organization (WHO) is cooperating with the governments of these West African countries to develop prioritized national operational plans to control the situation. ​

There is no evidence of this disease in Colombia, but because travel today facilitates dissemination of public health risk, the necessary measures are being adopted to prevent damage to the population. 

 What is Ebola disease?

Ebola hemorrhagic fever, commonly called Ebola, is a disease caused by the virus of the same name. It was first detected in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976, in a village located near the Ebola River, from which the disease takes its name. 

The virus produces symptoms such as fever, severe weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat, followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rashes, causing death to the majority of individuals affected, due to impaired kidney and liver function, and massive bleeding. The main risk of infection is direct contact with the blood, secretions or objects of the sick, even including the deceased. Symptoms occur 2 to 21 days after having been in contact with the virus.

How is it transmitted?

Bats living in Africa are the reservoir of the disease and can transmit the virus to other animals, such as primates and antelopes, which in turn spread the virus to human population when hunted, due to exposure to their blood when eating them or through small skin wounds.

The virus then spreads among humans, from person to person, by touching the organs, blood, secretions or bodily fluids of infected people, or through contact with elements such as cutlery or personal items. Individuals affected are contagious throughout the duration of the illness. 

The disease IS NOT SPREAD via airborne transmission, as by coughing or talking. 

Some practices in the countries involved, such as funeral rituals in which cohabitants wash and manipulate corpses, contribute to its transmission.

How is the disease diagnosed?

Since manifestations of this virus are similar to those of other tropical diseases such as malaria, typhoid fever, cholera, leptospirosis and hepatitis, the doctor must first rule them out by means of clinical and laboratory tests. Based on the results, especially if they are negative, history of possible contact with the virus, such as travel to the areas affected or contact with people infected with Ebola must be verified. In accordance with the clinical symptoms, specialized laboratory tests must be run in order to detect the virus or the antibodies against it.

How is it treated?

There is no specific or curative drug treatment. However, all patients with Ebola hemorrhagic fever must be hospitalized, and in severe cases, in intensive care units. Currently, there is no vaccine available. 

What are the preventive measures?

The main way to prevent infection is to avoid contact with the blood and secretions of people who have been diagnosed with the virus, as well as with nonhuman primates from Africa, and which show the symptoms. 

In the areas of West Africa where the disease is now present, people who come into contact with the sick must wear gloves, face masks and bibs to keep themselves completely isolated from exposure to the virus. They are now being encouraged to avoid participating in funeral rituals in which they come into contact with the blood and secretions of the deceased. 

Who is most at risk?

  • The health staff
  • Family members or those who have been in close contact with infected people
  • Mourners and funeral staff who have been in direct contact with the body of the deceased, as part of a burial ceremony
  • People who have had contact with the blood of mammals, such as nonhuman primates

Since the virus in Colombia is not present, the people most at risk are the travelers to countries with outbreaks, who must follow the above-mentioned measures.

What does WHO recommend travelers?

Risk of infection for travelers is minimal as long as they do not have direct contact, since transmission from person to person derives from direct contact with bodily fluids or secretions of an infected patient and not from talking or coughing.

What are WHO’s general recommendations during travel to the zones with outbreaks?

  • Travelers should avoid any contact with infected patients. 
  • Health personnel traveling to the affected areas must strictly follow WHO’s guidelines for infection control. 
  • People who have been in areas where cases have been recently reported should be aware of the symptoms of infection and seek medical attention at the first sign of the disease. 
  • Physicians who treat travelers returning from affected areas and showing symptoms compatible with Ebola, are advised to consider the possibility of the Ebola virus andinform the sanitary authorities immediately. 

Prepared by: Division of Epidemiology and Demography

Date: July 2014

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