Ebola: What are the risks?

The recent outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa has already claimed more than 2000 lives. The probability of an Ebola epidemic breaking out in our region is relatively small, however, there is always the possibility that infected people enter our country. These people need to be isolated as soon as possible to prevent any further contagion.

Anyone who needs to travel in the region (Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia) for professional reasons, is well advised to take thorough precautions.

What is Ebola?

Ebola is a highly contagious and highly lethal virus. Approximately 90% of people who become infected, die from the disease. There is (still) no available cure.

The Ebola virus affects multiple organs in the body and causes internal and external bleeding. Patients suffer severe pains and die a horrific death. The early symptoms of Ebola are fever, muscle ache, headache and a sore throat.

How do you become infected with Ebola?

Ebola is passed on from one person to another through bodily fluids (such as blood, vomit or faeces). Most infections occur while taking care of a sick person. It is important to prevent any bodily fluids from penetrating through orifices (eyes, mouth, small wounds etc). It is therefore important to protect oneself using a fluid-tight barrier.

Typical personal protective equipment when caring for Ebola patients

The focus is on protecting the wearer from fluids:

  • Disposable head cover
  • Fluid-tight goggles, if necessary with an additional face shield
  • Hygienic mask or respirator. Goggles or face shield and mask can be replaced by a full-face mask with P3 filter, but it must be taped to the suit.
  • Liquid-tight top and bottom gloves
  • Optional disposable apron
  • Liquid-tight Type 3 overall
  • Liquid-tight boots

As these suits are liquid-tight, they can only be worn during work for a limited amount of time, due to heat stress. Carers in the field speak of no more than 40 minutes at a time. Cooling vests or other cooling agents may help to reduce the heat stress to a minimum.