The worst case of Ebola the world has seen

The ebola virus has claimed more than 500 lives in West Africa, making it the worst case of the virus ever recorded. We explore why it spread as fast as it did and whether it would be the same case in Uganda.

Tuesday July 15 2014

 A file photo taken on June 25 shows the isolation ward

A file photo taken on June 25 shows the isolation ward at the Donka Hospital in Conakry, Guinea where people infected with the Ebola virus are being treated. The haemorrhagic fever sweeping through Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone has left an estimated 539 people dead, according to the latest WHO figures. AFP PHOTO  

By Gloria Haguma

It was just part of international headlines for the past six months. And while Ugandans empathised with headlines like ‘Ebola outbreak in Guinea unprecedented’ and ‘Ebola Death Toll in West Africa reaches 467’, the gravity of the disease did not resonate with many until ‘Ugandan doctor dies of Ebola fever in Liberia’ made it to the news.

Dr Samuel Mutoro from Kasese District died in Monrovia, Liberia where he was the head surgeon at Redemption Hospital and had been working there for the past three years.

His death brought back memories of two other doctors Uganda has lost to the virus –Dr Matthew Lukwiya and Dr Jonah Kule who died in 2000 and 2007 respectively. Dr Mutoro contracted the Ebola virus while treating a nurse at the hospital.

Dr Mutoro’s is one of the 539 lives the Ebola epidemic has claimed in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea since February. This is out of the 888 cases of Ebola that have been found, according to the World Health Organisation.

During a report on CNN, Dr Peter Piot, the scientist said to have discovered the virus in the 1970s says this particular strain of Ebola is uncontainable and kills over 90 per cent of its victims.

Unlike previous attacks like the 2000 case in Uganda, the ongoing case of Ebola is the first in West Africa, affecting three different countries. It is also the first time that an outbreak has occurred in capital cities, an issue that makes it hard to contain the virus, since cities are typically congested.

The first cases of the virus were reported in Guinea, in the towns of Guéckédougou, Macenta, and Dabola in February. On May 23, the outbreak spread to the country’s capital of Conakry, making its over two million inhabitants at high risk.

The Zaire ebola virus, as it’s being classified later spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone.

What is Ebola?

In an a analysis drawn up on the CNN news site, the Ebola hemorrhagic fever is defined as a virus caused by one of five different Ebola viruses.

Four of the strains can cause severe illness in humans and animals. The fifth, Reston virus, has caused illness in some animals, but not in humans. Incubation is always around 21 days.

The first human outbreaks occurred in 1976, one in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the other, in present day South Sudan. The virus is named after the Ebola River (in DR Congo), where the virus was first identified in 1976, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The virus is spread from human to human, once there is direct contact of body fluids like saliva, blood and stool from an infected person.

This also involves weakness, fever, aches, diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach pain and internal bleeding are some of the symptoms of the virus.

Typically, symptoms appear eight to10 days after exposure to the virus, but the incubation period can span from two to 21 days.

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