Ebola is a deadly virus. It is spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of a person who is sick with the virus, or who has died from it. When someone touches a person with the Ebola virus, or even touches things that the person has been in contact with, then the virus gets seeped into broken skin or through mucous membranes from the eyes, nose or mouth and is spread.
The Ebola virus is highly contagious – which means it spreads easily and rapidly – which makes it hard to contain. Even dead bodies remain contagious and health workers treating those infected, both the living and dead, are at great risk of contracting Ebola. They have to wear protective masks, gowns, gloves and eye protection.
The worst outbreaks of Ebola have been in West Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It became an epidemic in 2013. By 2016 it seemed to be under control but then there were further outbreaks in 2018 in the DRC prompting the World Health Organisation to declare it a World Health Emergency. Around 1800 people have died from Ebola since 2018 and a recent report indicated that the virus has claimed the lives of 67% of people infected it.
Doctors and researchers have worked tirelessly to find a cure to stop Ebola from spreading. Doctor Jean-Jacques Muyembe, from the DRC, is one of them. He has seen patients die from Ebola for decades and was determined to stop the terrible spread of the disease.
After years of research and clinical trials, Doctor Muyembe found two drugs that can treat the Ebola virus within an hour.
He told the BBC: “I spent four decades of my life thinking how to treat patients with the Ebola virus. So this is the achievement of my life.”
Now, people in Congo can access the new drugs, REGN-EB3 or mAb114 and, for the first time, there is hope to stop the loss of lives.
Although the worst cases have been in the past decade, Ebola has been around for a long time. The Ebola virus was first discovered in the DRC in 1976 near the Ebola river, where the virus got its name. Since then there have been several outbreaks in several African countries. Scientists aren’t entirely sure where the virus comes from, however they believe that the virus is animal-borne, with bats being the most probable source. The bats can transmit the virus to other animals and humans who come into contact with those animals are also affected. Monkeys, chimpanzees, baboons and gorillas are known carriers of the disease. One theory is that with deforestation in those countries most affected, primates came into contact with humans more frequently and humans contracted the disease and it spread.
Although a potential cure is available now, it doesn’t mean that the Ebola problem is entirely solved because, despite the vaccine, it is still difficult to contain the virus. There will also be further tests done even though there are vaccines available to assist.
There are many areas within the DRC that are remote and may not have adequate healthcare facilities because both the drugs, REGN-EB3 and mAb114 need to be refrigerated. This will stall the process to get it to those in isolated regions.
Dr Muyembe encountered his first Ebola patient when he was 34 years old and has been helping to combat the virus ever since. He has finally done that and is a real pillar of hope for people suffering from this deadly disease.
Tell us: Do you think that humans will ever be ‘free’ from the Ebola virus?