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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines Ebola as a hemorrhagic fever, which is caused by an infection with one or more of the four strains of the Ebola virus known to be infectious to humans.
Ebola is an infectious and generally fatal disease marked by fever and severe internal bleeding. The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission via infected bodily fluids like saliva, blood, semen, sweat, tears urine and more.
Ebola first came onto the medical radar in the 1976, and was named after a river in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), near where the disease was first observed. Ebola first appeared in 1976 in 2 simultaneous outbreaks, one in Nzara, Sudan, and the other in Yambuku, Democratic Republic of Congo.
Outbreaks of Ebola have occurred sporadically throughout Africa since its discovery. However, the recent spike in global travel has caused an increase in media coverage of the disease. The current outbreak in West Africa, (first cases reported in March 2014), is the largest and most complex Ebola outbreak since the Ebola virus was first discovered in 1976. There have been more cases and deaths in this outbreak than all others combined.
Certain groups have had higher rates of infection. Health-care workers have frequently been infected while treating patients with suspected or confirmed Ebola. This has occurred through close contact with patients when infection control precautions are not strictly practiced. Burial ceremonies in which mourners have direct contact with the body of the deceased person can also play a role in the transmission of Ebola.
It is important to note that people remain infectious as long as their blood contains the virus.
Ebola is caused by an infection with one of four strains of the Ebola virus known to be infectious to humans. These strains are:
Though most of the media coverage of Ebola focuses on human cases, the disease is also found in non-human primates, and is thought to be an animal-borne illness (transmitted through animals, in the case of Ebola: bats). Ebola is a highly contagious disease, though the CDC reports that it is only transmittable through direct contact with infected bodily fluids. This means that the disease is not airborne, and therefore poses slightly less risk as an epidemic disease.
According to the CDC, bodily fluids through which Ebola may spread include:
The disease may also be transmitted through contact with objects that have come into contact with infected bodily fluids (including medical tools such as needles and syringes), infected bats and/or nonhuman primates, and direct contact with bodily fluids from a recovered Ebola patient. The CDC also notes that Ebola is only contagious after symptoms have started to occur. This means that if you come into contact with a person who later develops Ebola, it is likely that you will not contract the disease.
Is it likely that I will contract Ebola? The latest and most deadly Ebola outbreak has caused global concern over possible outbreaks, especially with increased urbanization and long-distance travel. However, most governments have placed strict sanctions on travelers coming from Ebola-outbreak regions.
In the US, the CDC has issued travel warnings for passengers flying to Guinea and Sierra Leone, instructing travelers to avoid nonessential travel. A similar, less severe travel alert exists for passengers flying to Liberia, who are instructed to use enhanced precautions. Some state governments have chosen to quarantine patients flying in from Ebola-affected regions for several days or weeks to prevent possible outbreaks. In 2014, there were only 4 confirmed cases of Ebola in the US. Watch for signs of Ebola and follow these Ebola prevention tips to help lessen the chance of an outbreak in your area.
Diagnosing Ebola can be difficult due to the symptoms it shares with other hemorrhagic fevers. In addition to the presence of Ebola symptoms and recent travel to or from an Ebola-affected region, doctors can use several tests to confirm an Ebola diagnosis. The World Health Organization (WHO) lists the following as confirmation tests for an Ebola diagnosis:
Ebola shares many symptoms with other hemorrhagic fevers and tropical diseases. Therefore, it is necessary to take into account an individual’s travel history. Patients exhibiting Ebola-like symptoms may be suspected of having the disease if they have travelled to or from a geographic area in which they may have been exposed to Ebola within 21 days of symptom onset.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the following may be signs and symptoms of an Ebola viral infection:
**On average, Ebola symptoms appear 8 to 10 days after exposure to the virus. However, symptoms may appear as early as 2 days following exposure or late as 21 days.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports an average mortality rate of 50% among Ebola patients. This is taking into account past outbreaks of the disease which have occurred with varying strains of the disease, the individual mortality rates of which range from 25%-90%. The high mortality rate of Ebola is in part due to the lack of any licensed Ebola vaccines. Researchers are currently studying the possible effectiveness of several vaccines and treatment methods for Ebola.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that travelers be screened when exiting Ebola affected countries and when entering the United States.
The exit screening guidelines for travelers leaving West Africa (especially Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone) are as follows:
The entry screening guidelines for travelers entering the United States after being in countries with Ebola outbreaks (especially Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone) are as follows:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers the following tips to help to protect yourself and those around you from contracting Ebola:
There are currently no approved treatments for Ebola patients. There are several medications, immune therapies, and vaccines that are being investigated by health officials. A few of these therapies have been used successfully on patients infected with the Ebola virus, though it is difficult to determine what amount of the success is due to the therapy and what amount of success is due to other factors. Treatment of Ebola patients therefore is typically focused on supporting the body, which is termed supportive therapy, while it fights the infection.
Care that an Ebola patient receives will most likely include:
Seek immediate medical attention if you have recently travelled (within 21 days) to or from an Ebola-affected geographic region and you experience any of the following:
To find a general practitioner or infectious disease specialist in your area, visit www.healthgrades.com
For more information on Ebola, visit:
If you suspect you may have come in contact with the Ebola virus, go immediately to your local hospital, and ask to speak with an infectious disease specialist.
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