Ebola Outbreak: What You Need to Know

The Ebola “Hemorrhagic Fever” Outbreak in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone of 2014 is out of control. As you are well aware, two American aid workers and the lead Ebola doctor in Sierra Leon have been infected.

These headlines are deeply troubling. But should you be worried about the virus spreading to the U.S.? Here’s everything you need to know about the Ebola virus outbreak so far.

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1. Where’s the outbreak?
So far the Ebola outbreak is in three countries in West Africa that border each other: Guinea (where it was first detected in February), Sierra Leone, and Liberia. There has also been a case in Nigeria.

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2. Why is it spreading so quickly?
First of all, there’s no vaccine for Ebola. So health officials have to stop the infection by isolating patients to prevent further transmission.

3. How do you become infected by the virus?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, Ebola is spread either through direct contact with blood or secretions of an infected person or exposure to objects that have been in contact with secretions of an infected person. The CDC and World Health Organization say Ebola victims do not become contagious until they start showing symptoms.

4. What are the symptoms?
Ebola infections usually manifest with flu-like symptoms including high fever and chills, followed by nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, chest pain, cough, and headache. As the virus progresses, the symptoms get worse, much worse.

Symptoms of Ebola typically include:
Fever
Headache
Joint and muscle aches
Weakness
Diarrhea
Vomiting
Stomach pain
Lack of appetite

Some patients may experience:
Rash
Red Eyes
Hiccups
Cough
Sore throat
Chest pain
Difficulty breathing
Difficulty swallowing
Bleeding inside and outside of the body

Symptoms may appear anywhere from 2 to 21 days after exposure to Ebola virus though 8-10 days is most common.

It can be difficult to distinguish between Ebola and malaria, typhoid fever or cholera. Only in later stages do people with Ebola begin bleeding both internally and externally, often through the nose and ears.

5. How is Ebola treated?
Since there is no cure, doctors can only treat the symptoms and provide “supportive therapy” or palliative care which means supporting the patient’s own immune system as it tries to battle the infection. This usually involves intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration and shock. Therapy for Ebola patients could also include blood or platelet transfusions and oxygen therapy.

Ebola can last two to three weeks, so patients would remain in isolation until their symptoms subside and tests come back negative for the virus.

Some who become sick with Ebola are able to recover, while others do not. The reasons behind this are not yet fully understood. However, it is known that patients who die usually have not developed a significant immune response to the virus at the time of death.

6. Should YOU be worried?
Here’s a reality check: Ebola is not an airborne disease and therefore it has a lower transmission rate than Influenza. Currently, in the United States, more people die from influenza. The flu kills about 36,000 people a year in the United States, according to the CDC (though the range varies greatly each year). And most of those deaths are caused by complications from the flu. Influenza also requires hand washing and isolation to prevent transmission.

Learn more at the CDC.gov

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