Ebola Virus in India

One of the world’s extremely severe diseases with near fatal effects, according to WHO, is the Ebola. Its current outbreak is the worst ever. In most cases, the infected people die. It was in the year 1976, this deadly virus was first detected in Nzara, Sudan, and in Yambuku, Democratic Republic of Congo. So far it is mainly confined to the tropical regions of Sub-Saharan Africa, with very few instances in other countries. The ongoing Ebola fever in six countries namely Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, the US and Mali is the longest and the largest outbreak so far, recording more than 14,000 cases, including 5,177 deaths till 11 November 2014.

Man tests positive for Ebola at Delhi Airport

India, which had so far remained unscathed from the virus, has diagnosed a fresh case of it after an Indian resident’s semen sample showed traces of Ebola virus. The man, a 26-year old Indian, working in Liberia, was earlier treated and cured of the deadly virus, is kept in isolation at Delhi’s Airport Health Organisation Quarantine Centre.

What is Ebola?

Ebola viral disease (EVD), also known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever (EHF) is a serious, infectious viral hemorrhagic fever (VHF) condition in humans, monkeys, gorillas, chimpanzees caused by the virus of the Filoviridae family, genus Ebolavirus. It is a deadly virus, with 90% deaths of all infected people.

Symptoms of Ebola

According to WHO, initially, a person infected with Ebola virus has the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Severe weakness
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Sore throat

After 8-10 days, the symptoms become severe such as:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Rash
  • Poor liver function
  • Impaired kidney
  • Internal and external bleeding
  • Low white blood cells
  • Low platelet counts

Spread of Ebola virus

Usually, the virus spreads from animals to humans. Among the humans, the virus is transmitted through blood contact of a person, infected by that virus. Or through contact with contaminated fluids like urine, saliva and sweat. The virus is also transmitted through contaminated needles. Infected mene, even after recovery, can transmit the virus through their semen. According to WHO, it is the health workers and the family members of the infected person who are more at risk of the Ebola fever.

Treatment of the virus

Unfortunately, no vaccines have been developed so far for this virus. Some vaccines are in the trial and testing process but not yet ready for medical use. The only treatment given is a kind of “supportive therapy” in the form of:-

  • Maintaining fluids and electrolytes in the patient’s body
  • Maintaining oxygen level of the body
  • Maintaining blood pressure
  • Treatment for pain relief
  • Medications and injections to treat any other bacterial infections in the body

Prevention

  • If an animal is suspected to be infected by that virus, the best preventive method is to quarantine that entire group of animals.
  • The infected animal should be culled or slaughtered and its body should be destroyed.
  • The person with the infected virus should be quarantined.
  • Health workers and family members must wear protective clothing when they visit the patient.
  • Continuous use of infection-control measures in the health care centres and other areas where the patient is kept.

Is India prepared for Ebola?

The ongoing Ebola has been declared as an international emergency and hence every country needs to raise the level of vigilance on the deadly virus. India too should be on alert. The reason being almost 45000 Indians live in Ebola-affected African countries and there is every chance that visiting Indians can bring it home. In India, steps have been taken by the health ministry to deal with this deadly virus, if at all it gets detected here:

  • An emergency 24-hour helpline has been set up. The helpline numbers are (011)-23061469, 3205 and 1302.
  • Strong alerts have been issued at airports and ports.
  • Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said that the most advanced surveillance and tracking systems for the virus has been put in to action and there is nothing to worry. He also stated that the chances of Ebola in India are very low.
  • Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in Delhi has been declared as the healthcare centre in India for the treatment and management EVD cases.
  • Reports have also stated that Indian missions have contacted resident Indians in the affected countries and they were supplied all instructive materials so that they can take preventive measures.

Some measures taken at the airport

  • Proper investigation of the passengers, especially coming from African nations.
  • All passengers travelling to India via airways from Ebola-affected countries must fill a checklist health form.
  • Travellers’ address records will be maintained so as to track them easily if any symptoms are detected.
  • Compulsory self-reporting by passengers at the immigration check.
  • Airport officials in the customs and immigration sections must keep tight monitoring.
  • Help desks are set up at airports and ports to deal with travellers showing any potential Ebola symptoms.
  • Immediate action to be taken after detection. Airport officials are in touch with doctors.
  • There were 2-3 reports of Indian passengers coming from the affected countries carrying the virus infection with them. But, proper screening reported negative results.

So far so good. With the assurance given by the Health Ministry and with the preventive measures taken, we hope that things will be be brought under control if at all the disease is detected in the country. However, considering India’s past record in dealing with other diseases like swine flu, dengue, the situation looks not so promising. Will India really be able to cope such a dangerous disease outbreak when the country with its over billion population is not fully equipped to set adequate isolation and containment and treatment facilities? In the meantime, let us ourselves take precautions like maintaining cleanliness all the time, visiting the doctor if we detect any symptoms and increasing awareness among the people about the disease

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