What Is Ebola?
Ebola virus disease (EVD) is a severe, often fatal hemorrhagic disease that first appeared in 1976 in two simultaneous outbreaks. One outbreak was in Sudan and the other was in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in a village near the Ebola River -- from which the disease got its name. The Ebola pandemic in West Africa began in a small Guinea village in March 2014, and is the largest and most complex outbreak of the disease since it was discovered. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Ebola kills about 50 percent of people who become infected, but past outbreaks have seen fatality rates of up to 90 percent.
How is it spread?
Humans are not the natural host of Ebola virus, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the disease has been introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, organs or bodily fluids of infected animals like chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines. The disease is transmitted from human-to-human by direct contact with the blood, saliva, mucous or other bodily fluids of an infected person – or from contact with contaminated surfaces and materials. In countries where Ebola outbreaks have occurred, health aid workers are often at an increased risk for contracting and spreading the disease because the health care infrastructure does not provide for proper precautions to be taken. Burial ceremonies in these countries are another way the virus is spread when friends and family come in contact with deceased Ebola victims, according to the WHO.
What are symptoms?
Symptoms of Ebola virus infection can take anywhere from 2 to 21 days to appear, and can include sudden onset of fever, fatigue, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. Humans are not considered infectious until the onset of symptoms. As the illness progresses, patients may experience vomiting, diarrhea, rashes, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, the CDC says, both internal and external bleeding.
How is it diagnosed?
Early detection of Ebola virus in a person who has only been infected for a few days can be tricky because symptoms like fever, fatigue and muscle pain can also be indicative of other commonly occurring diseases such as malaria, typhoid fever and meningitis. However, if a person is exhibiting early symptoms of the disease and has had known contact with an Ebola patient, contaminated surfaces or infected animals, health officials say he or she should be isolated immediately. Blood tests can confirm or eliminate Ebola as the cause of illness in suspected cases.
How is it treated?
There is currently no cure for Ebola, but several experimental treatments including blood products made from Ebola survivors, immune therapies and other drugs are being evaluated. Patients receive supportive care for symptoms and are treated with intravenous fluids to prevent severe dehydration. While there are no approved vaccines for the virus yet, two drugs are currently undergoing human safety testing, according to the CDC.
How can it be prevented?
Prevention of Ebola is primarily focused on avoiding contact with the disease staying away from outbreak areas, avoiding contact with infected people and animals, washing your hands frequently and not handling remains of those who have died from the disease. If you’re a health care worker, following infection control protocols is key; wear protective clothing, gloves and masks; keep infected patients in isolation; and be sure to dispose of and/or thoroughly sterilize medical equipment.