What is Ebola?
Ebola is a virus that causes a disease called hemorrhagic fever, a serious and frequently life threatening infection. It was discovered in 1976 near the Ebola river in what is now The Democratic Republic of the Congo. It has caused sporadic epidemics over the years since, and this current epidemic in West Africa is by far the largest.
Is it contagious?
It is contagious, but not as contagious as other common infections like influenza.
How do I contract it?
Contraction requires physical contact with blood or other body fluids or secretions. Importantly, a person has to be ill already before he can transmit the infection to others. Sitting on an airplane next to someone who is not yet ill but who has been exposed to the virus is not a risk for catching the disease.
Ebola spreads by direct contact through broken skin or mucous membranes with:
- Blood or bodily fluids of a person who has Ebola
- Objects like needles or syringes that have been contaminated with Ebola
- Infected animals
Ebola is NOT spread through the air, by water, or food. A patient must have symptoms in order to spread the disease to others.
How can I prevent Ebola?
There are simple steps you can take to prevent Ebola:
- Practice careful hygiene
- Avoid direct contact with others' blood and bodily fluids
- Avoid items that have come in contact with an infected person's blood or bodily fluids
- Monitor your health for three weeks after returning from travel
What are the symptoms?
- Fever that can reach 101.5° or higher
- Severe muscle pains
- Unexplained bleeding
In roughly half of the cases in West Africa, these symptoms have progressed to critical illness and death.
How is it treated?
There is no vaccine to prevent Ebola yet, and there is no specific treatment for the virus. The treatment is aggressive supportive care including intravenous fluids, management of electrolytes, control of bleeding complications, and prevention and treatment of secondary bacterial infections. Obviously great care is taken to prevent exposure to those around a person being cared for with Ebola infection.
Is there a cure?
There are promising new treatments that are being studied in animals, but there are no controlled human studies so far and no cure at the moment.
What do I do if I have the symptoms?
If you or anyone you know returns from an area in Africa where Ebola is currently being transmitted, or if you are exposed to anyone returning to the United States who may have been infected with Ebola, you should contact your doctor and local health department officials if you develop fevers, headaches, or other symptoms typical of Ebola infection within 21 days of your last possible exposure. If you go to a hospital or emergency department, notify them before arrival of your possible exposure.