Dr Kizito Lubano
Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever (Ebola HF) is a severe, often fatal disease in humans and non-human primates (monkeys and chimpanzees) that has appeared sporadically since its initial recognition in 1976.
Where is Ebola virus found in nature?
The exact origin, locations, and natural habitat (known as the “natural reservoir”) of Ebola virus remain unknown. However, on the basis of available evidence and the nature of similar viruses, researchers believe that the virus is zoonotic (animal-borne) and is normally maintained in an animal host that is native to the African continent.
Confirmed cases of Ebola HF have been reported in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Sudan, the Ivory Coast, and Uganda.
Ebola HF typically appears in sporadic outbreaks, usually spread within a health-care setting (a situation known as amplification). It is likely that sporadic, isolated cases occur as well, but go unrecognised.
Infection with Ebola virus in humans is incidental, meaning humans do not “carry” the virus. Because the natural reservoir of the virus is unknown, the manner in which the virus first appears in a human at the start of an outbreak has not been determined. However, researchers have hypothesised that the first patient becomes infected through contact with an infected animal.
People can be exposed to Ebola virus from direct contact with the blood or secretions of an infected person. This is why the virus has often been spread through the families and friends of infected persons: In the course of feeding, holding, or otherwise caring for them, family members and friends would come into close contact with such secretions.
People can also be exposed to Ebola virus through contact with objects, such as needles that have been contaminated with infected secretions. In health-care facilities, exposure to the virus has occurred when health care workers treated individuals with Ebola HF without wearing protective clothing. If needles or syringes become contaminated with virus and are then reused, numbers of people can become infected.