Experts are saying Ebola is spreading at an alarming rate in Africa; here are some things you need to know about this deadly virus and whether it can affect you in the United States.
Ebola virus disease (formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever) is a severe, often fatal illness, with a case fatality rate of up to 90%. There is still no cure or specific treatment for the infection.
The World Health Organization reported that the infection is transmitted by direct contact with your blood, body fluids and tissues of infected animals or people.
Ebola first appeared in 1976 in two simultaneous outbreaks: one in a village near the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the other in a remote area of Sudan.
The origin of the virus is unknown but fruit bats (Pteropodidae) are considered the likely host of the Ebola virus, based on available evidence.
The virus has killed more than 660 people in the ongoing West African outbreak, the worst ever seen, and infected more than 1,100.
What are the symptoms?
Initial symptoms include fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. These symptoms are followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function and sometimes internal and external bleeding, according to WHO.
Laboratory findings include low white blood cell and platelet counts, and elevated liver enzymes.
Whether you have the infection or not can only be determined through a blood test.
Who is most at risk?
During an outbreak, those at higher risk of infection are:
- Health workers
- Family members or others in close contact with infected people
- Mourners who have direct contact with the bodies of the deceased as part of burial ceremonies
- Hunters in the rain forest who come into contact with dead animals found lying in the forest
In Africa, confirmed cases of Ebola HF have been reported in:
- Sierra Leone
- Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
- South Sudan
- Ivory Coast
- Republic of the Congo (ROC)
- South Africa (imported)
What is the treatment?
Treatment consists only of “supportive therapy,” according to the CDC.
Patients are frequently dehydrated and need intravenous fluids or oral rehydration with solutions that contain electrolytes. There is currently no specific treatment to cure the disease.
To help control further spread of the virus, people that are suspected or confirmed to have the disease should be isolated from other patients and treated by health workers using strict infection control precautions.
Can Ebola be prevented?
Currently there is no licensed vaccine for Ebola virus disease. Several vaccines are being tested, but none are available for clinical use right now.
How deadly is Ebola?
In past outbreaks, up to 90% of humans who contract the virus have died. WHO describes Ebola as “one of the world’s most virulent diseases.”