What is Ebola?
Ebola is a severe, often fatal disease in humans and nonhuman primates (such as monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees). It is caused by one of five species of Ebolavirus that are found in several African countries. Experts believe that bats are the most likely natural host for the virus and may spread it to other animals, which in turn can spread it to humans. The first Ebolavirus species was discovered in 1976. Since then, outbreaks have appeared from time to time in Africa.
What are the Symptoms?
Symptoms of Ebola usually start 8 to 10 days after exposure to an Ebola patient’s body fluids. However, symptoms can begin anytime from 2 to 21 days after exposure. Symptoms include:
- fever (higher than 38°C or 100.4°F)
- severe headache
- muscle pain
- abdominal (stomach) pain
- lack of appetite
- difficulty breathing or swallowing
- unexplained bleeding inside and outside the body
There is no vaccine or specific medication for Ebola. Patients are given supportive care such as intravenous fluids, oxygen, and medications to maintain blood pressure.
How is Ebola spread?
Ebola is not spread through casual contact or through the air. It is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids (including but not limited to urine, saliva, sweat, feces, vomit, breast milk, and semen) of a sick person, or exposure to sharp objects such as needles that have been contaminated. People with Ebola virus infection cannot spread the infection until they begin to get sick with symptoms.
Who is at risk for Ebola?
ONLY persons who have traveled to the affected countries within the past 21 days AND either have symptoms as noted above or known exposures to persons with Ebola virus disease are considered at risk for developing Ebola infection.
Generally, healthcare workers and the family and friends who are in close contact with Ebola patients are at the highest risk of getting sick because they may be exposed to the patient’s blood or body fluids if they are not wearing protective gear such as gloves, gown, eye protection and face mask.
In the United States, the risk of exposure to Ebola is considered to be very low. Casual travelers to Africa are not at risk for Ebola virus disease just from traveling in affected areas.
People who have had the following exposures are considered to be at risk for Ebola:
- contact with blood or other body fluids or human remains of a patient known to have or suspected to have Ebola, without wearing appropriate protective equipment
- residence in, or travel to, an area where Ebola transmission is active
- direct handling of bats or primates from disease-endemic areas
Is there treatment or vaccine for Ebola?
There is no current FDA approved vaccine or specific medicine for Ebola. Patients are given supportive care such as intravenous fluids, oxygen, and medications to maintain blood pressure and treat other infections if they occur. Recovery from Ebola depends on good supportive care and the patient’s immune response.
General Reminders About Staying Healthy
- Wash your hands often.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, since that spreads germs.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or your elbow when you cough or sneeze, then wash your hands.
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- If you are sick with flu-like illness, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone.
- While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.