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For the third time in the history of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the agency has raised its level of emergency alertness to “Level 1”-this time in response to the Ebola virus, following outbreaks in West Africa.
CDC Level 1 emergency response, reserved for the most dire health emergencies, was declared for the first time in 2005 following Hurricane Katrina, and again in 2009 for the H1N1 influenza outbreak.1
On August 8, the World Health Organization (WHO) also declared the Ebola outbreak an international public health emergency.2
The outbreak began late last year. Affected areas include Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. At the time of this writing, of the 1,711 people infected 932 have died in these three areas. Nine people have also been diagnosed with the disease in Nigeria.3
While the death rate for Ebola can be upwards of 90 percent, the current outbreak has a death rate of about 55 percent.4
Two American aid workers, Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, have contracted the disease, and have been flown back for treatment in the US, aboard a specially-equipped plane. At least one of the victims is being treated at the Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia.5, 6
What Is Ebola?
The Ebola virus7 was first discovered in 1976 when an outbreak occurred in Sudan. So far, five subtypes have been identified:
Zaire ebolavirus (ZEBOV), identified in 1976, is thought to be the most virulent
Sudan ebolavirus, (SEBOV)
Ivory Coast ebolavirus (ICEBOV)
4. Ebola-Reston\ (REBOV), isolated from monkeys in the Philippines in 1989. In 2009, this variant was thought to have been transferred from pigs to humans
Bundibugyo ebolavirus (BEBOV). The first outbreak of this virus occurred in the Bundibugyo District, Uganda, in 2007.8 The virus was deposited with the CDC in November 2007, and was patented in 2009.9 It is the most closely related to the ICEBOV strain, but it’s more virulent
The current outbreak involves
Zaire ebolavirus, which produces symptoms within six to 16 days of infection. The virus leads to severe immunosuppression, but most deaths are attributed to dehydration caused by gastric problems. Early signs of infection include:
• Non-specific flu-like symptoms
• Sudden onset of fever, diarrhea, headache, muscle pain, vomiting, and abdominal pains
• Other, less common symptoms include sore throat, rashes, and bleeding
As the infection sets in, shock, cerebral edema (fluid on the brain), coagulation disorders, and secondary bacterial infections may occur. Hemorrhaging tends to begin four to five days after onset of the initial symptoms, which includes bleeding in the throat, gums, lips, and vagina. Vomiting blood, excreting tar-like feces indicative of gastrointestinal bleeding, and liver and/or multi-organ failure can also occur.