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Ebola FAQs - September 2014



What you should know about Ebola

What is Ebola?

The Ebola virus is the cause of Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever, a severe, infectious, often-fatal disease in humans and nonhuman primates (monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees) caused by infection with Ebola virus.  It was first reported in 1976. While it is a dangerous disease, it can be prevented.

Should I be worried?

No. No cases of Ebola have been reported in the United States. You can keep track of reported cases online through healthmap.org.

“I think people should be aware of the disease but not panic,” said Anna Hart, MD, infectious disease specialist with Baptist Medical Associates in Louisville. “It is possible for Ebola to come here but it is very unlikely for it to spread widely. The U.S. has hospitals adequately supplied with infection control equipment (gloves, gowns etc.) and healthcare personnel who are trained in infection control measures. The CDC has been alerting and educating all healthcare personnel on how to identify, test, and isolate all suspected patients therefore a sick patient would be identified quickly and the disease would be contained and controlled.”

Be alert for future Ebola-related warnings that may be issued by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta. The CDC has issued a Level 3 Travel Warning, the highest level, in response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa. However, the threat is still very low in the United States.

Sustained outbreaks would not occur in the U.S. because cultural factors in the developing world that spread Ebola — such as intimate contact while family and friends are caring for the sick and during the preparation of bodies for burial — aren't common in the developed world. Health authorities would also rapidly identify and isolate infected individuals.

Where is Ebola being reported?

A small number of West Africa nations have reported cases of Ebola. The CDC advises Americans to avoid nonessential travel to the West African nations of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

What if I have an international flight planned?

Two United States-based airlines travel to Africa – Delta and United. Neither has cancelled flights. Both are keeping in touch with government agencies and health officials and will follow any recommendations made. The CDC is helping to screen airline passengers who are coming to the United States from Africa. Once those passengers land in the U.S., border patrol agents and CDC staff evaluate them for Ebola symptoms. Some other airlines have cancelled flights to the affected areas. 

How deadly is Ebola?

The mortality rate is about 55 percent in West Africa and as high as 75 percent in Guinea.  There is no vaccine. Experimental treatments show some promise in primates. Experimental treatment has been used on a very small number of human patients, but no conclusions can yet be reached.  Otherwise, treatment consists mostly of hydrating the patient and maintaining oxygen status and blood pressure.

How is it spread?

It is believed that the disease is first transmitted through human contact with an infected animal. Other people can then be exposed to Ebola virus from direct physical contact with the body fluids such as blood, saliva, stool, urine, sweat, etc. of an infected person or soiled linen used by a patient. There is no evidence at this time to suggest that Ebola is spread by coughing or breathing particles in the air.

It can be spread through contact with objects, such as needles, that have been contaminated with infected secretions.

How long does it take to show up?

Incubation period is 2-21 days.

What are the signs and symptoms of Ebola hemorrhagic fever?

  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Sore throat
  • Joint and muscle aches
  • Stomach pain
  • Headache
  • Measles-like rash
  • Red eyes, hiccups and bleeding from body openings may be seen in some patients

 

How can it be prevented?

  • Avoid direct contact with body fluids of a person suffering from Ebola or a deceased patient by wearing gloves, goggles, and masks.
  • Persons suspected to be suffering from Ebola should be taken to the nearest hospital immediately for medical attention. Medical officials will need to know where the person has been, and who he/she may have been in contact with, in order to try to trace the origin of the disease.
  • Report any suspected cases of Ebola to the nearest health department immediately.

 

Why do we keep having these “epidemics” or scares (SARS, H1N1, etc.)?

“I think that's a combination of many factors including rapid demographic, environmental, social, and technological changes in the way we live,” said Dr. Hart. “In the last century our population has grown. There is migration from rural areas to cities. There has been an increase in international travel and now people are traveling further and more frequently then we have ever before. We are seeing destructive ecological changes due to new developments and land use. As the population expands into new geographical regions the chance of us coming into contact with animal species that are potential hosts of an infectious agent increases. And, of course, war and poverty also play an important role in disease spread.

“We are also seeing a re-emergence of disease because the pathogen has now acquired resistance to antimicrobials.” Examples are “super bugs” such as vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE) and carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), which are resistant to last-resort antibiotics.

Sources: World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University (Dr. W. Ian Lipkin), and the International Association for Medical Assistance for Travellers.

Sept. 2, 2014