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Ebola: Ten facts about this deadly virus

Tuesday, July 24, 2018: people in the Democratic Republic of Congo are relieved when the World Health Organization (WHO) declares the end of its latest Ebola outbreak. Less than a week later, doctors already detect a new infection. It is the start of the tenth – and worst – Ebola outbreak in the history of DR Congo, and the second-largest outbreak worldwide. Within a year, the virus kills more than 1,800 people.

The Ebola virus has taken many lives over the past few years and still continues to keep a large part of Africa in a chokehold. But what exactly is Ebola and what can we do about it? Ten facts you may not know about this deadly virus.

1. Ebola is a virus disease

Ebola, officially called Zaïre Ebola Virus (EBOV), is an infectious disease caused by the Ebola virus. The virus can affect both humans and animals. The disease is rare but very severe and potentially lethal. In Africa, more than half of the infected do not survive.

The largest Ebola epidemic ever, in 2014 and 2015, cost the lives of more than 11,000 people. Image: Arie Kievit.

2. The virus is transmitted from animals to human

It is still not clear which animals carry the Ebola virus. Most likely, bats play an important role in spreading the virus to other animals. The virus can be transmitted to humans by, for example, preparing or eating contaminated meat.

3. It was first discovered in DR Congo

A young Belgian scientist named Peter Piot first discovered the Ebola virus in a remote area in the Congolese rain forest, in 1976. He named the virus after the Ebola river, that flows in the same area. Since the discovery, small outbreaks have regularly taken place in various African countries.

4. Ebola starts with flu-like symptoms

After being infected with the virus, the first symptoms occur within 2 to 21 days. Usually, the first signs occur within a week. Ebola often starts with symptoms of severe flu or malaria: diarrhea, fatigue, vomiting, muscle pain and headache.

5. The Ebola virus attacks the immune system

Once infected, the virus spreads and multiplies at lightning speed. It causes bleeding in various places in the body, resulting in multiple organ failure.

6. It can be transmitted through body fluids

The Ebola virus is transferable through direct contact with (any kind of) body fluids, such as blood, saliva or feces. To prevent further spreading of the virus, it is important to avoid any kind of direct body contact with patients. Rapid patient isolation is therefore necessary and essential. The virus does not spread through the air or mosquitos.

Avoiding direct body contact with Ebola patients is essential to prevent further infection. Image: Arie Kievit.

7. There is still no cure available

Ebola is still very difficult to battle: no specific cure or medical treatment is available yet. New treatment methods and the use of vaccinations are currently still in the experimental phase and therefore not yet available to everyone.

8. The largest Ebola outbreak worldwide started in 2013

In December 2013, a little boy from the village Méliandou, Guinée was diagnosed with Ebola. This turns out to be the start of the largest Ebola epidemic worldwide: in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, more than 11,000 people died as a direct result of the virus. Cordaid offers support in these countries both during the outbreak as well as during the long aftermath.

9. Emergency aid for 550.000 people

During this epidemic, Cordaid lead the Stop Ebola campaign, which raised no less than 10.5 million euros. This money was spent on medical care, protective clothing, support for safe funerals, education about Ebola prevention and distribution of hygiene kits.

Thanks to the generous support during the Stop Ebola campaign, Cordaid could provide support to dozens of small medical posts in the fight against this disease. Image: Arie Kievit.

10. Further assistance is necessary

During the current Ebola outbreak in Congo, Cordaid’s main goal is to make sure that the health system in the affected areas remains operational. Additionally, we also provide emergency assistance by building or refurbishing water supplies and training health centers. Read more about our joint health care and humanitarian aid operation in Congo.

In the long term, most important is to raise awareness about Ebola in the risk areas. When people are better informed about how to recognize the disease and how to prevent further spreading, thousands of lives can be saved.