Another Look at Ebola and Your Safety

By Dr. Okechukwu Amako, MBBS (Ibadan)
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Between 2014 and 2015, there was an outbreak (the worst) of the Ebola virus in some countries (Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea) in West Africa which claimed thousands of lives.

Nigeria was one of these countries, though the virus was well contained and it didn't spread like it did in the other countries. But it did claim a few lives here, including those of health workers. Almost 3 years after that outbreak (in the past few days), there is confirmation of cases of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country located in Central Africa. About 3 people are already dead from the virus according to the World Health Organisation.

While efforts are being made by the governments of different African countries to contain this new outbreak, it is also important you, as an individual, be at alert and take the right measures to be safe, even though the Ebola virus outbreak is not anywhere near Nigeria or wherever you're reading this from.

The Ebola virus is one of many viruses known to cause what is known as viral haemorrhagic fever: where the person infected has a fever and bleeds excessively internally—in the stomach and intestine, in the mouth or when an injection needle is passed into their veins for blood sample withdrawal or drug administration. But what makes the virus very dangerous is its ability to easily and rapidly spread to infect healthy people; much more terrible is the rate at which it kills those infected: as much 9 out of every 10 persons infected with the virus can die from it.

Those who survive the virus may develop complications such as eye problems, problems with hearing, muscle aches and some affected women may not see their menses for months after recovery. It has also been shown that the virus remains in the sperm of men who survived it for several months, meaning it may be passed on to a healthy woman through sexual intercourse. Hence, abstaining from sex or strict use of condom for at least 12 months after recovery is strongly advised. During these 12 months, the man is advised to go for a test of their sperm every 3 months until the sperm tests negative to the virus.

How do you increase your vigilance and safety measures against the Ebola virus even when you're far away from it?

1. If possible, postpone travelling to the Democratic Republic of Congo indefinitely, if you have any cause to travel there in the first place. Also, you should encourage your family members, friends and colleagues, who happen to travel frequently, to avoid travelling to the Democratic Republic of Congo any time soon.

Travelling to an area with an Ebola outbreak is one of the easiest ways for the virus to spread to new geographical territories when these travellers return to their places of residence.

2. If you have a family member, friend or colleague who is just returning from the Democratic Republic of Congo, it will be wise to encourage them (if they are not aware) to take very strict measures about safeguarding themselves and others from the virus. Such measures include making themselves available for all the screening protocols put in place at the airports and following additional instructions if any findings that may suggest a possible Ebola infection are identified in them.

3. The Ebola virus may take up to 21 days before manifesting in some people, meaning people returning from the Democratic Republic of Congo may not show any noticeable symptoms and signs and therefore will likely pass all the screening tests at the airports only to start manifesting symptoms many days after.

Hence, be very observant of health complaints of people around you. If you come across anyone complaining of fever, severe headache, muscle aches, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, dizziness, tiredness, unexplained bleeding from the gums of the mouth or when a slight injury or bruise is sustained, it could be a case of Ebola. Report such cases to the nearest health facility.

4. Ensure strict hygienic measures such as regular hand washing with soap and water after handling dirty things. The Ebola virus can multiply in some bats, and human beings can be infected by eating things contaminated by such bats (the stool droppings, saliva or blood). Therefore, people who do hunting or live near forests where bats reside should suspend such activities and take measures to keep bats out of their houses.

The Ebola virus is very deadly; it can spread to a healthy person through contact with body fluids from an infected person: blood, saliva, urine, sperm. There is no case of the virus in Nigeria currently; however, every safety measure should be taken by all to prevent any possibility of it reaching here.

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Published Tuesday, May 16th 2017

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