Ebola fever is now in Nigeria; the first person, a Liberian, died two days ago. It started in Guinea earlier in the year then spread to Sierra Leone and Liberia, all in West Africa.
The first outbreak of the disease occurred in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, followed in the same year by one in Sudan. Because the first outbreak occurred near the Ebola River in the DRC, the disease is named Ebola Fever and the agent which causes it Ebola Virus.
Since 1976, this appears to be the first time, the fatal form of the disease has broken out in West Africa. Because the human traffic in the sub-region is high, the disease can easily spread.
The disease is described as a haemorrhagic fever because occasionally, the fever is accompanied by external and internal bleeding.
Nigeria is the most populous country in West Africa and indeed Africa. Lagos State where the first case was reported is not just the most populous state in the country but also the state with the highest population density. Personal hygiene is less than commendable, potable water is scarce and sanitary facilities are less than adequate.
1. Direct Contact with body fluids.
The Ebola virus is contained in the body fluids of victims; the body fluids include saliva, sweat, nasal discharge, blood, semen, urine; in fact it is said that semen still contains the virus up to seven weeks after recovery from the disease. On contact with such fluids, the virus enters the body through broken skin (injuries on the skin) and the mucous membrane covering the-eyes, mouth, nostrils, vagina- all these areas are covered by thin skin called mucous membrane. The hand can carry the virus to any or all of these places.
2. Exposure to contaminated objects
Ebola fever can also spread by contact with objects contaminated by the virus; these include clothing/handkerchiefs/beddings of infected persons, animal parts of dead infected animals and any other items contaminated by fluids from infected persons or animals.
3. Poor food hygiene
Ebola fever affects man and animal. It enters the human population through contact with dead or living animals by hunters or farm workers or by eating the poorly cooked meat of infected animals.
However if proper food hygiene is practiced the spread chain can be broken. Meat should be thoroughly cooked especially bush-meat such as antelopes, porcupines, monkeys and fruit bats.
4. Poor Hand hygiene
The greatest fear about the spread of Ebola virus in Lagos is the level of hand hygiene. We like to shake hands in Nigeria, hug and French kiss (kissing the cheeks). Consequently it is advisable that hands are thoroughly washed with soap and water as often as possible or if not available apply a sanitizer. Always carry a sanitizer around.
On arrival at home after a day’s work, your first activity must be to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. After the use of the toilet whether for number 1 or number 2, you must wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. Use a disposable tissue when sneezing or coughing, if you sneezed or coughed into your hands, wash them thoroughly with soap and water immediately after. After a visit to hospital or to a sick person, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. Do the same after handling uncooked food (meat, fruits, vegetables etc)
If everyone does the above, the chain of spread of Ebola fever will be broken.
5. Close contact with Ebola patients
Some of the people most at risk of contracting the disease are the close relatives of Ebola Fever patients, this is more likely in the early stages when the diagnosis has not been made.
Cases of persistent fever, diarrhoea and vomiting should be taken to hospital for examination and diagnosis. Once diagnosed, the persons are isolated and contact restricted to the barest minimum even with relatives.
Even the burial practices are altered such that contact with the body is minimized; cremation is best.
6. Use of poorly sterilized instruments
Ebola fever disease can also spread within human population through the use of unsterilized needles, syringes and sharp instruments. That is if they had been used previously by an Ebola fever patient.