The largest Ebola outbreak in history is being held responsible for sickening more than 6,500 people and killing more than 3,000 others, according to the World Health Organization.
And on Tuesday, the first case of the deadly disease in the US was confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But what is Ebola, and what are the risks?
The disease, previously called the Ebola hemorrhagic fever, was first discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to the CDC.
It can be found in humans and nonhuman primates (monkeys, gorillas and chimpanzees) and is caused by an infection with one of five Ebola virus strains. Four of the strains can cause disease in humans.
- Ebola virus (Zaire ebolavirus)
- Sudan virus (Sudan ebolavirus)
- Taï Forest virus (Taï Forest ebolavirus, formerly Côte d’Ivoire ebolavirus)
- Bundibugyo virus (Bundibugyo ebolavirus)
- Reston virus (Reston ebolavirus), has caused disease in nonhuman primates, but not in humans
Where the Ebola virus first originated is not known, but the CDC says evidence points to an animal-borne virus, with bats most likely the original culprit.
The 2014 outbreak is the first Ebola epidemic in the world -- affecting several countries in West Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lagos and Port Harcourt, Nigeria, and in Texas in the United States.
Signs and symptoms of Ebola virus
Symptoms can appear anywhere from two to 21 days after exposure to the disease, with an average of eight to 10 days:
- Fever (greater than 38.6°C or 101.5°F)
- Severe headache
- Muscle pain
- Abdominal (stomach) pain
- Unexplained hemorrhage (bleeding or bruising)
People who recover from the infection develop antibodies that last for at least 10 years.
How do you become infected with Ebola?
Because the origin of the virus is not known, the way the disease first appears in a human at the start of an outbreak isn't clear, says the CDC. But researchers believe the first patient to contract the virus is infected through contact with an animal that has Ebola.
When an infection does occur in humans, the virus can spread in various ways to other people.
Ebola is spread through direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with:
- Blood or body fluids (including but not limited to urine, saliva, feces, vomit, 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, food. However, in Africa, Ebola may be spread as a result of handling bushmeat (wild animals hunted for food) and contact with infected bats
Those who are at the highest risk of contracting the virus are healthcare providers caring for Ebola patients and the family and friends in close contact with the diseased. This is due to the increased chance they will come in contact with infected blood or body fluids of sick patients.
Once someone recovers from Ebola, they can no longer spread the virus. However, Ebola virus has been found in semen for up to three months.
People who recover from the disease are advised to abstain from sex or use condoms for three months.
How to prevent contracting Ebola
An Ebola vaccine approved by the Federal Drug Administration is not available -- though many vaccines are currently being researched.
If you travel to or are in an area affected by an Ebola outbreak, the CDC says to make sure to do the following:
- Practice careful hygiene. 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.
- 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 where Ebola patients are being treated. The U.S. embassy or consulate is often able to provide advice on facilities.
- After you return, monitor your health for 21 days and seek medical care immediately if you develop symptoms of Ebola.
Health care 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 the blood or body fluids, such as but not limited to, feces, saliva, 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
How do you treat Ebola?
Because there is no vaccine or medicine for the virus, symptoms of Ebola are treated as they appear in patients.
The CDC says 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
Some experimental treatments developed for Ebola have been tested and proven effective in animals but have not yet been tested in randomized trials in humans.
Recovery from Ebola depends on the patient’s immune response.
For more information by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CLICK HERE.
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