Ebola: Just the Facts

Ebola-FactsThis week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first case of Ebola in the United States. The patient, who resides in and is undergoing treatment in Texas, had recently visited Liberia, where the disease has been most prevalent in this year’s outbreak.

The risks of contracting Ebola for most people in the United States is very low. Here are the Ebola facts you need to know.

What is Ebola?

Ebola is one of many viral hemorrhagic fevers and is caused by infection with one of the ebola viruses. It is a severe disease in humans and nonhuman primates such as monkeys, gorillas and chimpanzees. As of Sept. 23, the total case count, according to the World Health Organization, is 6,574, with just under 50% of those proving fatal.

How is Ebola diagnosed?

According to Karen Trimberger, director of Infection Prevention at Memorial Medical Center, diagnosing Ebola can be difficult because the early symptoms such as red eyes and a skin rash are often in patients with more common diseases. Symptoms may appear anywhere from two to 21 days after exposure but days eight to 10 are the most common. Healthcare providers should investigate further if a patient presents with the following symptoms (PART A) combined with circumstances (PART B):

PART A: Fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain and lack of appetite. Some people may also experience skin rash, red eyes and internal and external bleeding.

PART B: AND who within three weeks before the onset of fever has done one of the following:

  • Traveled to an area of Africa where viral hemorrhagic fever has recently occurred (currently these areas are Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone)
  • Had direct unprotected contact with blood, other body fluids, secretions or excretions of a person or animal with viral hemorrhagic fever
  • Had a possible exposure when working in a laboratory that handles hemorrhagic fever viruses

Does Ebola spread person-to-person?

Yes. Ebola has spread between people who have had direct contact with the blood, secretions or excretions of an infected person or have had exposure to contaminated objects that have been contaminated with infected bodily fluids. Isolation precautions and personal protective equipment must be used when providing care to these patients. At this time, there is not a vaccine available, nor is there a cure, but quality medical treatment greatly increases survival.

Is Ebola an airborne virus?

The virus is not transmitted through the air.

“The virus is only transmitted by direct or indirect contact with the body fluids of an infected person,” Trimberger said. “Masks are worn by healthcare providers to protect the mucous membranes of the mouth and nose.  Other required personal protective equipment includes gowns and gloves.”

Can I still travel to Africa?

The CDC urges all US residents to avoid nonessential travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone because of an unprecedented outbreak of Ebola. The travel alert is at Level 3 which means “Avoid Nonessential Travel.”

Am I at risk?

You are not considered to be at risk for Ebola infection if you have not had close contact such as caring for or living with someone who is being evaluated for Ebola virus.

“Infection Prevention at Memorial is keenly aware of the situation and we are actively monitoring the CDC and Department of Public Health for guidance,” Trimberger said. “At this time, the US is considered low risk and locally we have no reported cases.”

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