Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine in Houston and a professor at the Baylor College of Medicine, says that nurses, grave diggers and family caregivers are at high risk because the virus replicates at a higher rate as it becomes more advanced.
Unique and dangerous abilities
As the virus takes over the body, the risk of infection increases exponentially because of the unique ability of Ebola to stop the body from producing an anti-virus substance called interferon. Hotez defines interferon as “the body’s first defense against viruses,” and says that without it, Ebola is free to replicate uncontrollably.
As a result, towards the end of their lives, patients are playing host to billions of viral particles, and also bleed profusely both internally and externally, due to the fact that the virus attacks the liver’s blood-clotting abilities. Some even vomit blood, which is incredibly dangerous for care-givers.
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Ebola: The situation in West Africa
These abilities of the Ebola virus are leading to high rates of infection in West Africa, where the World Health Organization claims that each Ebola patient is infecting an average of one to two people. Due to the poor state of health care in affected areas, the newly infected are often family members who have been caring for patients, or poorly equipped health care workers who sometimes lack such basic protection as plastic gloves.
Infection rates are increased for various reasons. In Liberia, hospitals only have space for 20% of Ebola patients. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that many homes in affected areas of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia do not have running water or modern toilets.
The WHO states that 8,914 cases of Ebola have been reported, including 4,447 deaths, although the total effect of the disease is thought to be far worse. Filing of reports is not always undertaken by overworked health workers in the worst-hit areas.
Around half of the 416 health workers that have been infected with the virus have died.