Via The Daily Monitor: Ebola: Separating myths from reality. Excerpt:
It evokes macabre scenes from Old Testament plagues, especially the bit about bleeding from every orifice in your body. Tales by people who claim to have seen victims of the highly contagious Ebola read like the script of the horror movie Outbreak.
Ebola, which struck Uganda last week and caused a scare in Eldoret where a patient has been admitted with Ebola-like symptoms, is a viral haemorrhagic (bleeding) fever rated as one of the most virulent viral diseases known to humankind.
However, a Ugandan epidemiologist, Dr William Mbabazi, says falsehoods about the disease complicate the spreading of awareness about it. According to Dr Mbabazi, much of the representation of the Ebola virus in fiction and the media is exaggerated, if not mythical. A common myth has it that everybody who contracts the disease bleeds from all body openings.
The expectation that all Ebola cases bleed to death is a lie as documented facts show that bleeding is not a major clinical sign for cases of the disease. In December 2011, the talk in Nairobi was about a 29-year-old woman who had been rushed to Kenyatta National Hospital bleeding from the nose, ears, and mouth. Although she died shortly after arrival at the referral hospital, panic gripped both health workers and the general public, with self-styled street experts swearing that it was Ebola.
However, Kenya’s public health director Shahnaz Sharif ruled out Ebola. It was established that the patient was bleeding from the stomach, perhaps because of an ulcer or a similar ailment.
According to Dr Mbabazi, not all haemorrhagic diseases should be directly associated with Ebola. “...headache, abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhoea are also present in more than 80 per cent of the cases,” says Dr Mbabazi, who is also the technical adviser for Management Sciences for Health in South Sudan.
According to a paper by scientists who studied the virus in 2007 and 2008, about half of infected people manifest haemorrhagic signs such as bleeding from the nasal cavity, passing of blood in urine, and/or gastrointestinal and vaginal bleeding.
Another pervasive myth has it that the virus kills so fast that it has no time to spread. Dr Mbabazi explains that symptoms usually appear abruptly after an incubation period of between four and 21-days. He says although this can prevent the transmission of the virus to many people, it is still ample time for some people to contract Ebola.
The average incubation period from contact with an infected person to symptoms onset is seven days.
Are monkeys responsible for the spread of Ebola? According to scientific paper on the Ebola outbreak in August 2007 to February 2008 in Bundibugyo District, in western Uganda, attempts to link the outbreak to wildlife failed because none of the families investigated admitted to hunting as this is prohibited.
However, evidence shows that the Ebola virus seems to reside in the rain forests in Africa and in the Western Pacific.
Dr Mbabazi says although human infections are commonly traced back to non-human primates, it appears humans are directly infected from the natural reservoir or through a chain of transmission from the reservoir.
“The only literature available seems to suggest that the fruit-eating bats commonly found in tropical rain forests are the natural reservoir for this virus because when these bats are (injected) with the Ebola virus in experiments, they have survived, indicating that they might be spreading it,” notes Dr Mbabazi.
So is Ebola a plague? According to Dr Mbabazi, it is and it can threaten human existence because all human beings are susceptible to Ebola infection. The virus spreads easily through body contact or contact with fluids such as saliva, semen, and blood.
The virus causes disease in 40 to 50 per cent of exposed people and kills 40 to 90 per cent of them, making it a plague.
“However literature shows that Ebola survivors develop immunity,” Dr Mbabazi told Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper.
There have been claims that Ebola liquifies the body organs of infected people, but Dr Mbabazi disagrees. Instead, he says Ebola interferes with the clotting and bleeding mechanisms of the body.