Ebola Virus Disease: An epidemic with no end
Ebola virus disease (EVD) is one of the rarest and the most fatal illnesses infecting a large part of the human population. Formerly known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, it is transmitted by close contact with the animals who are the chief carriers of the Ebola virus. Animals such as fruit bats, chimpanzee, porcupines, gorillas, or monkeys infected by Ebola virus transmit it to humans through body fluids like blood. The virus is similarly transmitted among humans through close contact with the body fluids of an infected person. However, there are still contentions and researches being conducted about how long and to what extent an Ebola virus-infected person can be contagious, as it is also believed that both Ebola survivors and deaths have a risk of transmitting the disease to other humans.
The first outbreak of the Ebola virus was recorded in 1976, simultaneously in two provinces- Nazara, South Sudan and Yambuku, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). However, the largest outbreak with many losses of human lives happened in 2014-15 in West Africa, starting in Guinea and spreading till Sierra Leone and Liberia. The current outbreak of the disease in 2018-19 has been recorded in eastern DRC. Vaccines to inhibit the virus is still under development but has been used to control EVD in Guinea and DRC to some extent. Recent research has found that Ebola virus residuals remain in the bodies even after treatment. The risk of transmission from treated bodies along with the dead bodies of the infected person is continuously being studied to control the epidemic that might otherwise be imminent. The rarest example of recurrence and transmission of disease from Ebola survivor is a case of a pregnant woman who was infected by Ebola after pregnancy and consequently affected everyone in her family.
Alessandro Vespignani, Professor of Physics, Computer Science, and Health Sciences, and the director of the Network Science Institute at Northeastern University, along with his colleagues are conducting researches on understanding the movement of disease among communities and country. He said, “Understanding the long-term effects of Ebola may help control the spread of the disease in future outbreaks.” He compares the research of identifying the movement of disease to the prediction of a hurricane.
However, for any research to be successful, it is important to reckon the past and the present effects of the disease, by recording the experiences of the victims of Ebola. But, the contagious nature of the disease has already started to create conservatism among the population. The infected person does not want to come out in public and get treated out of fear and shame. To conduct a well-grounded, inclusive, and empirical research and produce a correct result, “he would need to know the probability that an Ebola survivor would become infectious again” says Laura Castañón in her article How long is an Ebola survivor contagious? One case is causing the scientists to rethink the answer.
Therefore, the research requires the participation of both the patients and doctors to produce a durable result. Vespignani rightly says, “What we are trying to do is anticipate the move of your enemy. But the soldiers who are going to fight this enemy are the medical doctors. We cannot do our modelling work without those clinical studies.”