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Everything you need to know about Ebola

The current Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is now the most severe in the cou..

The current Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is now the most severe in the country's recorded history and ranks the third worst on the African continent.

At least 326 people have reported symptoms of hemorrhagic fever in the Central African nation's eastern provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, which share borders with Uganda and Rwanda. Among those cases, 291 have tested positive for Ebola virus disease, according to a daily bulletin from the country's health ministry on Saturday.

There have been 201 deaths thus far, including 166 people who died from confirmed cases of Ebola. The other deaths are from probable cases of Ebola.

"No other epidemic in the world has been as complex as the one we are currently experiencing," the country's health minister, Dr. Oly Ilunga Kalenga, said in a statement late on Friday.

The total number of cases exceed that of the country's first Ebola outbreak, which was recorded in 1976 in the small northern village of Yambuku in what was then Zaire. The ongoing outbreak is also the third most severe in the recorded history of the African continent, following 28,652 cases in the 2013-2016 outbreak in multiple West African nations and 425 cases in the 2000 outbreak in Uganda, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The development comes just a month after the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded the current outbreak does not yet meet the criteria for an international public health emergency — a proclamation that would have mobilized more resources and garnered global attention.

Here is what you need to know about the deadly virus.

The Ebola virus is described as a group of viruses that cause a deadly kind of hemorrhagic fever. The term "hemorrhagic fever" means it causes bleeding inside and outside the body.

The virus has a long incubation period of approximately eight to 21 days. Early symptoms include fever, muscle weakness, sore throat and headaches.

As the disease progresses, the virus can impair kidney and liver function and lead to external and internal bleeding. Its one of the most deadly viruses on Earth with a fatality rate that can reach between approximately 50 to 90 percent. There is no cure.

The WHO has received approval to administer an experimental Ebola vaccine, using a "ring vaccination" approach, around the epicenter of the current outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Some 28,000 people, including children as well as health and frontline workers, have been vaccinated in the outbreak zone since Aug. 8, according to the WHO.

The vaccine, which was developed by American pharmaceutical company Merck, has proved effective against the country's previous outbreak in the western province of Equateur.

The virus is transmitted through contact with blood or secretions from an infected person, either directly or through contaminated surfaces, needles or medical equipment. A patient is not contagious until he or she starts showing signs of the disease.

Thankfully, the virus is not airborne, which means a person cannot get the disease simply by breathing the same air as an infected patient.

In this current outbreak, people have been infected in North Kivu and Ituri, which are among the most populous provinces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and share borders with Uganda and Rwanda.

Those two provinces are awash with conflict and insecurity, particularly in the mineral-rich borderlands where militia activity has surged in the past year, all of which complicates the response to the outbreak. There is also community mistrust, partly due to the security situation, and some residents delay seeking care or avoid follow-up.

Ebola is endemic to the region. This outbreak is the 10th in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 1976, the year that scientists first identified the deadly virus in Yambuku near the eponymous Ebola River.

This outbreak in the country's eastern region was announced Aug. 1, just days after another outbreak in the western part of the country that killed 33 people (including 17 who had confirmed cases of Ebola) was declared over.

The dangerous virus gets its name from the Ebola River in northern Democratic Republic of the Congo, which was near the site of one of the first outbreaks. The virus was first reported in 1976 in two almost simultaneous outbreaks in the Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The outbreaks killed 151 and 280 people, respectively.

Certain bats living in tropical African forests are thought to be the natural hosts of the disease. The initial transmission of an outbreak usually results from a wild animal infecting a human, according to the WHO. Once the disease infects a person, it is easily transmissible between people in close contact.

An outbreak that began in the West African nation of Guinea in March 2014, and soon spread to neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone, was the largest in history, infecting 28,646 people and causing 11,308 deaths. The outbreak, which the WHO deemed a public health emergency of international concern, was declared over in June 2016.

The virus is not airborne, which means those in close contact can be infected and are most at risk. A person sitting next to an infected person, even if they are contagious, is not extremely likely to be infected.

However, health workers and caregivers of the sick are particularly at risk because they work in close contact with infected patients during the final stages of the disease, when the virus can cause internal and external bleeding.

In the current outbreak alone, 28 health workers have been infected so far and at least three of them have died, according to the WHO.

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Flu vaccine delays for over-65s ‘resolved by weekend’

GPs and patients frustrated by a shortage of the new flu vaccine for over-65s are being told the fin..

GPs and patients frustrated by a shortage of the new flu vaccine for over-65s are being told the final delivery batch will arrive by Saturday.

NHS England said there would be enough vaccines for everyone to be protected ahead of winter.

But doctors' leaders said more guidance should have been given to GPs and patients to avoid disruption over the phased delivery of supplies.

Older adults are advised to get the flu jab by early December.

This gives time for protection before flu starts to circulate, normally later in the month.

However, the staggered delivery of supplies of the over-65s vaccine from the manufacturer Seqirus to GPs and pharmacies means some older patients have not been able to be vaccinated.

Cancelled appointments

In a survey of 650 GPs in Pulse, nearly 70% said there had been a shortage of this flu vaccine at their practice.

That meant they could not vaccinate as many elderly patients as they would have liked.

Some GPs said they had to cancel appointments while others said it had created staffing problems.

But a spokesperson for NHS England said that this week, "100% of vaccines will have been delivered by the manufacturer to those surgeries and pharmacists who placed an order on time". (more…)

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NHS bosses look to overhaul cancer screening

Cancer screening programmes are to be reviewed following high-profile mistakes that have put thousan..

Cancer screening programmes are to be reviewed following high-profile mistakes that have put thousands of patients in England at risk.

NHS England has asked former government cancer tsar Sir Mike Richards to look at what changes are needed.

Three national schemes cover breast, cervical and bowel cancers.

On Wednesday, it emerged letters about the cervical cancer tests that should have gone to 40,000 women between January and June had not been sent.

About 4,000 of them were results of tests, the remainder were letters inviting them for screening or reminding them tests were due.

Between 150 and 200 of the test results that were not sent out detailed abnormal results.

NHS bosses have been able to contact all those affected.

The service in charge of distributing letters is provided for NHS England by Capita.

Looking at the merits of outsourcing screening was going to form part of the review, NHS England said.

The problems come just months after it emerged 174,000 women had not been invited for breast cancer screening, after mistakes had gone undetected for years. (more…)

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Superbug risks fail to dent attitudes to antibiotics

Warnings about drug-resistant superbugs arent enough to change most peoples behavior on using antibi..

Warnings about drug-resistant superbugs arent enough to change most peoples behavior on using antibiotics, according to a Europe-wide poll out Thursday.

The Eurobarometer survey reported seven in 10 people who received information telling them not to take antibiotics unnecessarily said it didnt change their views on using them.

Excess use of the drugs is contributing to a growing threat of antimicrobial resistance and related infections. As germs multiply they can develop the ability to defeat the medicines designed to kill them — and those infections could be killing more than 33,000 people a year in Europe, according to recent estimates.

“It is ridiculous,” European Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis said in response to the fact that people arent responding to warnings, at an event in Brussels Thursday. “We have science on one hand and lack of trust on the other.”

“Unless we act decisively, immediately and together, we could face a public health and financial disaster,” he added.

The EU is failing to gain traction with its effort to get member countries to combat the rise of resistance.

The Eurobarometer survey showed the number of people who had taken antibiotics in the last 12 months fell from 40 percent in 2009 to 32 percent in 2017. But less than half of people said they were aware that antibiotics dont work to treat viruses, and 20 percent said they take antibiotics to treat flu or colds.

Seven percent of people said they took antibiotics without having seen a doctor or getting a prescription.

Andriukaitis said the survey, which polled around 27,400 people in 28 countries, shows Europeans “are still not sufficiently aware of the dangers of AMR.”

A report from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) on Thursday raised particular concern about the rise of superbugs in hospitals and care centers — estimating there are around 8.9 million cases of health care-associated infections in European facilities each year, many of them caused by multidrug-resistant bacteria. (more…)

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