Ebola is a deadly virus that has caused outbreaks in several countries in Africa, including the ongoing one in Uganda. The most deadly outbreak occurred in 2014-2016 in West Africa and resulted in the death of over 11,000 people. While there is no cure for Ebola, there are steps that can be taken to prevent future outbreaks.
In this article, we'll see how Ebola spreads, how it can be prevented, and what the international community has been doing to prevent future outbreaks of the virus.
How does Ebola spread?
Ebola virus disease (EVD) is a severe, often fatal human illness. The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission.
- The Ebola virus can be spread through direct contact with the blood or body fluids of a person who is sick with EVD, or with objects that have been contaminated with these fluids.
- Healthcare workers have frequently been infected while treating patients with suspected or confirmed EVD, due to close contact without strictly following infection control precautions.
- Burial ceremonies that involve direct contact with the body of the deceased can also contribute to the transmission of Ebola. People remain infectious as long as their blood contains the virus.
- Pregnant women who get acute Ebola and recover from the disease may still carry the virus in breastmilk or pregnancy-related fluids and tissues, posing a risk of transmission to their baby or others. Women who become pregnant after surviving Ebola disease are not at risk of carrying the virus themselves.
The fatality rate for Ebola cases is 50%. However, it has varied from 25% to 90% in prior outbreaks.
What is being done to prevent future outbreaks?
Surveillance and lockdowns in Uganda
As Uganda is currently the hardest-hit country, public health officials have initiated a contact tracing program that has traced more than 1,200 contacts of infected people since the outbreak began.
Uganda is also closing schools nationwide two weeks early and has locked down two districts, Mubenda and Kassanda. These districts contain 810,000 residents and have had their first three-week lockdown extended an additional three weeks.
Despite these measures, leaked internal documents show that the country is preparing for a significant escalation in cases, with up to 500 deaths by the end of May 2023.
The government also has requested $68M in funds from international donors, which it estimates is required to contain the disease. So far, it has only received $10M, making PPE difficult to obtain.
Surveillance in neighboring countries
Neighboring countries are conducting surveillance to attempt to keep Ebola from entering their borders. South Sudan, for example, is screening passengers at river crossings and at their airports. These efforts identified 17 suspected cases, of which 5 were validated for further testing (all tested negative).
Kenya is also performing temperature checks at their borders, as is Rwanda. Nigeria has warned all travelers to avoid non-essential travel to Uganda. In short, most neighboring countries are attempting to keep Ebola out by enforcing checks at their borders, while simultaneously training their health workers in case these prevention efforts fall short.
Can we stop Ebola with a vaccine?
Ebola has two primary strains of interest - the Sudan strain and the Zaire strain. Ervebo is the first approved Ebola vaccine, and works against the Zaire strain. Per the US CDC:
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Ebola vaccine rVSV-ZEBOV (called Ervebo®) on December 19, 2019. This is the first FDA-approved vaccine for Ebola.
This vaccine is given as a single dose vaccine and has been found to be safe and protective against Zaire ebolavirus, which has caused the largest and most deadly Ebola outbreaks to date.
On February 26, 2020, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended pre-exposure prophylaxis vaccination with rVSV-ZEBOV for adults ≥ 18 years of age in the U.S. population who are at potential occupational risk of exposure to Zaire ebolavirus.
However, the current Ebola outbreak is an outbreak of the Sudan strain, for which there is no known vaccine at present. Work is ongoing to develop a vaccine that will protect against this strain, but is not yet complete.
Community prevention and control
Community engagement is key to successfully controlling outbreaks. Effective outbreak control includes case management, infection prevention, and control practices, surveillance and contact tracing, a good laboratory service, safe and dignified burials, and social mobilization.
The World Health Organization is engaging local partners on the ground in hotspots like Uganda and bordering countries like South Sudan to roll out a series of community-level behaviors to help stop Ebola.
One behavior is to avoid contact with infected animals, such as fruit bats, monkeys, apes, forest antelope, or porcupines. Another way to stop the spread in communities is to make sure that any animal products (blood and meat) that are consumed are thoroughly cooked before consumption.
Another action diseases specialists are encouraging has to do with PPE and hygiene. They are working with local communities to get supplies of and appropriate personal protective equipment for anyone in contact with anyone who has symptoms of the disease.
How can individuals help prevent the spread of Ebola?
There are a few ways to protect yourself from Ebola virus disease. According to the US CDC, you should first avoid contact with the blood and body fluids of people who are sick. They also recommend you avoid contact with semen from a man who has recovered from EVD until it is confirmed that the virus is gone.
Additionally, do not touch items that may have come into contact with an infected person’s blood or body fluids. Finally, stay away from funeral or burial practices involving touching the bodies of those who died from EVD or suspect EVD.
If you live in or travel to an area where there is an Ebola outbreak, be sure to follow these same prevention methods, even if you aren't aware that you might have been exposed to someone with EVD.
You should also keep an eye out on case counts if you plan to visit a country where Ebola is present. Ebola-Cases.com tracks global data on the 2022 Ebola virus disease outbreak. Because the site is updated daily, this will be one of the first places you will be able to go to view information about any Ebola outbreak. We will also aggregate and share any information about the number of Ebola cases and deaths on our Twitter account, so be sure to follow it for up-to-date information.