Preventing ebola

The Ebola virus is spread by contact with blood or other body fluids. There is currently no vaccine against it. Prevention during an epidemic relies upon reducing contact with the body fluids of infected persons: ;
  • medical staff should wear gloves, face masks and an outer garment that is removed before they leave the hospital. Highly specialised "space suits" are not considered necessary for clinical staff;
  • local authorities must intervene to ensure that relatives should not handle the corpse of any persons dying of the illness, as may happen during traditional funeral preparations;
  • people should avoid receiving injections from untrained "village doctors" (who often have no health training whatsoever). Such people sometimes operate in local markets offering injections for a variety of ills, often using unsterilised needles and syringes;
  • during an outbreak people must be especially careful to wash their hands when caring for people who are sick from any cause, in case the illness is the early stage of Ebola; male survivors may secrete the virus in their semen for many weeks after they are cured and thus should refrain from unprotected sexual activity for a period of three months. ; An example - the MSF emergency intervention in Kikwit ; In 1995 there was a major outbreak of haemorrhagic fever in the town of Kikwit in the south-west of Zaire, now called the Democratic Republic of Congo. An experienced team of MSF volunteers went to investigate and help the local authorities in setting up control measures. ; It was essential to address several issues at once - strengthening treatment facilities at the local hospitals and dispensaries; confirming the nature of the epidemic; and instituting control measures. ; The clinical features of the Kikwit disease could in theory have been caused either by yellow fever or Ebola. However the severity and high case fatality rate seemed to point to Ebola, as did the pattern of transmission - initial epidemiological surveillance of cases seemed to implicate person-to-person transmission, rather than transmission by a mosquito vector, as is the case with yellow fever. ; Indeed, the groups most affected were pregnant women and young children. A particular risk factor seemed to be living within close proximity of a health centre or hospital. And closer questioning of people affected revealed that many of the patients had received an injection during the previous days or weeks - the women against tetanus in the context of their antenatal care, and the children as part of their regular immunisations. This information led to urgent investigation of sterilisation techniques by local medical staff and it was found that needles and syringes were being re-used without proper sterilisation. The first intervention, therefore, and the most effective step in bringing an end to the outbreak, was to provide adequate supplies of sterile equipment and to provide also training of the staff on how to prevent contagion.