The following is a summary of information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ebola is a rare and deadly disease caused by infection with one of the five Ebola virus strains. Ebola can cause disease in humans and nonhuman primates such as monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees.
Ebola viruses are found in several African countries. Ebola was first discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since then, outbreaks have appeared sporadically in Africa.
The natural reservoir host of Ebola virus remains unknown. However, on the basis of evidence and the nature of similar viruses, researchers believe that the virus is animal-borne and that bats are the most likely reservoir. Four of the five virus strains occur in an animal host native to Africa.
For more general information on Ebola: http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/about.html
Risk of Exposure
Most cases of human illness or death from Ebola have occurred in Africa. Health care providers and the family and friends in close contact with Ebola patients are at the highest risk of getting sick because they may come in contact with the blood or body fluids of sick patients.
The virus also can be spread through contact with objects such as clothes, bedding, needles, syringes or medical equipment that have been contaminated with the virus or with infected animals.
For more information about exposure risks: http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/exposure/index.html
The Ebola virus is not like that of colds and flu, which spread through the air by coughing or sneezing. Ebola is spread through direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes, i.e. the eyes, nose, or mouth) with:
- Blood, urine, saliva, sweat, feces, vomit, breast milk and/or semen of a person who is sick with Ebola;
- Objects such as needles and syringes that have been contaminated with the virus;
- Infected animals.
Health care providers and the family and friends in close contact with Ebola patients are at the highest risk of getting sick because they may come in direct contact with blood or body fluids of infected patients.
Once someone recovers from Ebola, they can no longer spread the virus. However, Ebola virus has been found in semen for up to 3 months. People who recover from Ebola are advised to abstain from sex or use condoms for 3 months.
For more information on Ebola Transmission: http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/transmission/index.html
Ebola transmission frequently asked questions: http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/outbreaks/2014-west-africa/qa.html
The symptoms of an Ebola infection are:
- Fever (greater than 38.6°C or 101.5°F)
- Severe headache
- Muscle pain
- Abdominal (stomach) pain
- Unexplained hemorrhage (bleeding or bruising)
Symptoms may appear anywhere from 2 to 21 days after exposure to Ebola, but the average is 8 to 10 days. For more symptoms information: http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/symptoms/index.html
Diagnosing Ebola in a person who has been infected for only a few days is difficult, because early symptoms such as fever are also seen in patients with more commonly occurring diseases, such as malaria and typhoid fever.
However, if a person has the early symptoms of Ebola and has had contact with the blood or body fluids of a person sick with Ebola, contact with objects that have been contaminated with the blood or body fluids of a person sick with Ebola, or contact with infected animals, he/she should be isolated and public health professionals notified.
Samples from the patient can then be collected and tested to confirm infection through special laboratory tests. Tests in the early phases of infection include antigen-capture enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), immunoglobulin M ELISA, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and virus isolation. Later in the course of disease, IgM and IgG antibodies can be tested. Patients who have recovered can be tested by immunohistochemistry, PCR and virus isolation.
For more information: http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/diagnosis/index.html
There is no FDA-approved vaccine available for Ebola.
People traveling in an area affected by an Ebola outbreak should take the following precautions:
- Practice careful hygiene. Wash hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and avoid contact with blood and body fluids.
- Do not handle items such as clothing, bedding, needles or medical equipment that may have come in contact with an infected person’s blood or body fluids.
- Avoid funeral or burial rituals that require handling the body of someone who has died from Ebola.
- Avoid contact with bats and nonhuman primates, and the blood, fluids, and raw meat prepared from these animals.
- Avoid hospitals in West Africa where Ebola patients are being treated. The U.S. embassy or consulate is often able to provide advice on medical facilities.
- Seek medical care immediately if symptoms of Ebola develop within 21 days of returning from an area in which Ebola infections are being reported.
Healthcare workers who may be exposed to people with Ebola should:
- Wear protective clothing, including masks, gloves, gowns, and eye protection.
- Practice proper infection control and sterilization measures. For more information, see “Infection Control for Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers in the African Health Care Setting”.
- Isolate patients with Ebola from other patients.
- Avoid direct contact with the bodies of people who have died from Ebola.
- Notify health officials if there has been direct contact with the blood or body fluids, including feces, saliva, sweat, urine, vomit, and semen of a person who is sick with Ebola. The virus can enter the body through broken skin or unprotected mucous membranes in, for example, the eyes, nose, or mouth.
For more prevention information: http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/prevention/index.html
No FDA-approved vaccine or antiviral drug is available for Ebola.
Symptoms of Ebola are treated as they appear. The following basic interventions, when used early, can significantly improve the chances of survival:
- Providing intravenous fluids and balancing electrolytes (body salts)
- Maintaining oxygen status and blood pressure
- Treating other infections if they occur
Experimental vaccines and treatments for Ebola are under development, but they have not yet been fully tested for safety or effectiveness.
Recovery from Ebola depends on good supportive care and the patient’s immune response. People who recover from Ebola infection develop antibodies that last for at least 10 years, possibly longer. It isn’t known if people who recover are immune for life or if they can become infected with a different species of Ebola. Some people who have recovered from Ebola have developed long-term complications, such as joint and vision problems.
For more treatment information: http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/treatment/index.html
For a list of answers to frequently asked treatment questions: http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/outbreaks/2014-west-africa/qa-experimental-treatments.html
For comprehensive information about Ebola and timely updates on the outbreak, please consult the main CDC website: http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/index.html