Doctor discusses Ebola virus outbreak

- Dr. Jeff Harp of Highland Family Medicine discussed what the Ebola virus is and what may be causing the most recent outbreak Thursday on News 8 at Sunrise.

Dr. Harp said Ebola hemorrhagic fever is one of numerous viral hemorrhagic fevers.  It is a severe, often fatal disease in humans and non-human primates, such as monkeys, gorillas and chimpanzees.  The first Ebola virus species was discovered in 1976 in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo near the Ebola River.  Since then, outbreaks have appeared sporadically.

Researchers believe that the virus lives in animals between outbreaks, with bats the most likely animal.  The manner in which the virus appears in a human at the start of an outbreak is unknown.  Researchers have hypothesized that the first patient becomes infected through contact with an infected animal.

When infection occurs, symptoms usually begin abruptly.  Symptoms may include fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, lack of appetite, rash, red eyes, hiccups, cough, sore throat, chest pain, difficulty breathing and swallowing, and bleeding inside and outside of the body.  These may appear anywhere from two to 21 days after exposure.  Some who become sick are able to recover, while others are not.

When an infection occurs in humans there are several ways in which it can be transmitted to others, including direct contact with the blood or secretions of an infected person and exposure to object (such as needles) that have been contaminated with infected secretions.  The virus often spreads through family and friends because they come into close contact with infectious secretions when caring for ill persons.  During outbreaks of Ebola the disease can spread quickly within health care settings, particularly if staff are not taking precautions.

Dr. Harp said the the doctor and administrator that were infected and later recovered in Atlanta benefitted from an experimental drug, and excellent care.

For more information about the Ebola virus, click here.

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