Patient zero for this outbreak was a 31 year-old man who was treated at home for weeks before seeking care at a facility where he tested positive for Ebola shortly before he died on April 21st. According to the regional director for the World Health Organization in Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the exposure for a week before isolation could have dire consequences.
The disease has had a two-week head start and we are now playing catch-up. The positive news is that health authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have more experience than anyone else in the world at controlling Ebola outbreaks quickly...
Ebola is an extremely infectious disease with a fatality rate that ranges from 25% to 90% depending upon access to medical treatment and vaccination. Vaccinations will be administered in Mbandaka where the man lived. Contact tracing is being completed in order to track down those who might have been exposed to the man. The facility where the man was treated was also issued guidance on disinfecting and testing those who were exposed during his treatment.
Declaring an outbreak of 1 patient may seem too soon. However, the area has historically been prone to large outbreaks and Ebola has an infectious rate, or R0 (R naught) factor of 1 to 3. Meaning that a single person can infect roughly 3 people with the disease. After you consider that those 3 people can now infect roughly 9 and so on, it can quickly turn into a problematic disease. The most recent outbreak of Ebola in the area killed 70% of the those who suffered from it.
Ebola is also very transmissible, which makes it even more insidious. It can be contracted by contact with bodily fluids and secretions. But it also lingers on surfaces such as clothing, bedding and medical equipment. It can also be transmitted via close contact or consumption of bats and primates. Ebola can also remain in the body after the infection has subsided. The eyes, reproductive organs, and central nervous system can have the virus long after the sufferer is asymptomatic.
Ebola poses little threat as a pandemic illness, primarily because it is so deadly. Symptoms of Ebola are similar to other infectious diseases - fever, body aches, severe headache, sore throat, fatigue, diarrhea, vomiting and loss of appetite. However, it is classified as a hemorrhagic disease. So there are also unique symptoms that include bleeding, bruising and rashes. Perhaps the most unique symptom in late stages of the disease is persistent hiccups. Ebola shares many symptoms with the flu, coronavirus, malaria and typhoid.