Ebola Outbreak: 14 Things to Know about the Deadly Disease

“Ebola virus is just one flight away”

These is one of the headlines I’ve seen in the past few days in regard to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

ebola-jpgThe current outbreak began in March 2014 in Guinea and quickly spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone. As of 23 July 2014, the cumulative number of cases attributed to EVD in the three countries stands at 1201, including 672 deaths. US media jumped onto the story when 3 Americans were stricken with the disease, and one has died. Two are healthcare workers, Dr. Kent Brantly, a 33-year-old from Fort Worth, Texas working in Liberian capital Monrovia and Nancy Writebol from Charlotte, North Carolina. WRitebol is employed by Serving in Mission, a group working to fight EBV in Monrovia. Both remain hospitalized in quarantine.

The fatality was Minnesotan Patrick Sawyer, a naturalized citizen who was a top government official in the Liberian Ministry of Finance. He had been caring for his ill sister, who turned out to have Ebola. Sawyer was expected to come home soon to celebrate his daughters’ birthdays.

With global travel as prevalent as it is today, almost any disease can be spread from one country to another, but Stephan Monroe of CDC’s National Center for Emerging & Zoonotic Infectious Diseases told reporters:

“Ebola poses little risk to the U.S. general population, it’s because you have to be in direct contact with someone who is ill to become infected.”

“The likelihood of this spreading out of West Africa is very low. While it’s possible someone ill could get on a plane, they couldn’t spread the virus to someone who just happened to be sitting nearby. It is very unlikely they would be able to spread disease to their fellow passengers.”

Monroe went on to say: “People are not infectious prior to becoming symptomatic.” An ill patient with a recent travel history to the affected area should be immediately isolated. “We are fairly confident that the standard of care in the U.S. would prevent much of the transmission of the virus were to show up here.”

What you should know about Ebola Virus

1.  Ebola hemorrhagic fever (Ebola HF) is one of numerous Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers. It is a severe, often fatal disease in humans and nonhuman primates (such as monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees).

2.  Ebola HF is caused by infection with a virus of the family Filoviridae, genus Ebolavirus.

3.  When an infection does occur in humans, there are several ways in which the virus can be transmitted to others. These include:

  • direct contact with the blood or secretions of an infected person
  • exposure to objects (such as needles) that have been contaminated with infected secretions

4.  The viruses that cause Ebola HF are often spread through families and friends because they come in close contact with infectious secretions when caring for ill persons.

5.  During outbreaks of Ebola HF, the disease can spread quickly within health care settings (such as a clinic or hospital). Exposure to ebolaviruses can occur in health care settings where hospital staff are not wearing appropriate protective equipment, such as masks, gowns, and gloves.

ebola symptoms6.  Symptoms of Ebola HF typically include:

  •     Fever
  •     Headache
  •     Joint and muscle aches
  •     Weakness
  •     Diarrhea
  •     Vomiting
  •     Stomach pain
  •     Lack of appetite

7. Some patients may experience:

  •     A Rash
  •     Red Eyes
  •     Hiccups
  •     Cough
  •     Sore throat
  •     Chest pain
  •     Difficulty breathing
  •     Difficulty swallowing
  •     Bleeding inside and outside of the body

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

9. Laboratory tests used in diagnosis include:

ebola testing

10..  Some who become sick with Ebola HF 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.

11. Standard treatment for Ebola HF is still limited to supportive therapy. This consists of:

  •     balancing the patient’s fluids and electrolytes
  •     maintaining their oxygen status and blood pressure
  •     treating them for any complicating infections

12. Timely treatment of Ebola HF is important but challenging since the disease is difficult to diagnose clinically in the early stages of infection. Because early symptoms such as headache and fever are nonspecific to ebolaviruses, cases of Ebola HF may be initially misdiagnosed.

13.  If a person has the early symptoms of Ebola HF and there is reason to believe that Ebola HF should be considered, the patient should be isolated and public health professionals notified. Supportive therapy can continue with proper protective clothing until samples from the patient are tested to confirm infection.

14.  Experimental treatments have been tested and proven effective in animal models but has not yet been used in humans.

Source: CDC


Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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