Ebola, previously known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, is a rare and deadly disease caused by infection with one of the Ebola virus strains. Ebola can cause disease in humans and nonhuman primates (monkeys, gorillas and chimpanzees).
Ebola is caused by infection with a virus of the family Filoviridae, genus Ebolavirus. There are five identified Ebola virus species, four of which are known to cause disease in humans: Ebola virus (Zaire ebolavirus); Sudan virus (Sudan ebolavirus); Taï Forest virus (Taï Forest ebolavirus, formerly Côte d’Ivoire ebolavirus); and Bundibugyo virus (Bundibugyo ebolavirus). The fifth, Reston virus (Reston ebolavirus), has caused disease in nonhuman primates, but not in humans.
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.
Symptoms of Ebola
Symptoms of Ebola include:
- 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 two to 21 days after exposure to Ebola, but the average is eight to 10 days.
How Can Ebola Be Spread?
Ebola is spread through direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes in, for example, the eyes, nose, or mouth) with
- Blood or body fluids (including but not limited to urine, saliva, sweat, feces, vomit, breast milk, and semen) of a person who is sick with Ebola
- Objects (like needles and syringes) that have been contaminated with the virus
- Infected animals
- Ebola is not spread through the air or by water, or in general, by food.
How To Treat Ebola
No FDA-approved vaccine or medicine (e.g., 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 (IV) 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.
How Can Ebola Be Prevented?
CDC urges all U.S. residents to avoid nonessential travel to Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia because of unprecedented outbreaks of Ebola in those countries. CDC recommends that travelers to these countries protect themselves by avoiding contact with the blood and body fluids of people who are sick, because of the possibility they may be sick with Ebola.If you travel to or are in an area affected by an Ebola outbreak, make sure to do the following:
- Practice careful hygiene. For example, wash your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and avoid contact with blood and body fluids.
- Do not handle items that may have come in contact with an infected person’s blood or body fluids (such as clothes, bedding, needles, and medical equipment).
- Avoid funeral or burial rituals that require handling the body of someone who has died from Ebola.
- Avoid contact with bats and nonhuman primates or 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 facilities.
After you return from areas with known Ebola cases, the Georgia Department of Public Health will help monitor your health for 21 days and provide instructions about whom to call and how to seek appropriate treatment or care. Healthcare workers who may be exposed to people with Ebola should follow these steps:
- 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 you have had direct contact with blood or body fluids of a person who is sick with Ebola. These include fluids such as feces, saliva, urine, vomit, and semen. The virus can enter the body through broken skin or unprotected mucous membranes in, for example, the eyes, nose, or mouth.
Source: Centers for Disease Control