Updated November 3, 2014
by Kendra Smith and Katie Lewin
There are so many stories in the press about the Ebola outbreak, yet you could spend all day reading articles or watching clips and still be confused about the virus. That’s why we’ve gathered information from the Centers for Disease Control into this FAQ and provided you links to learn more.
More Ebola resources:
Ebola is not spread through air, water, or casual contact, like standing in line next to someone at the grocery store. The virus passes only through direct contact with body fluids of a person who is showing symptoms of Ebola or has died from the disease. Body fluids include blood, vomit, urine, sweat, saliva, and stool. Needles and medical equipment that have been contaminated with the virus through body fluids can also transmit the disease.
The likelihood of a house pet contracting Ebola in the US is low, as it would have to come into contact with body fluids of a person sick with Ebola — just as a person would. Though research indicates that the virus is found in certain animals, the American Veterinary Medical Association believes that pets such as cats and dogs are not at a significant risk in the US.
Symptoms can appear from 2 to 21 days after exposure and include: fever, headache, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, muscle pain, and unexplained bleeding or bruising. Ebola only spreads after symptoms begin. If a person has no symptoms, they cannot spread the virus. If an exposed person doesn’t develop any symptoms within 21 days, they won’t get sick with the virus.
Right now, there’s no vaccine or medication for the virus that’s been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. However, experimental drugs and vaccines are under development and may be tested during these outbreaks. The best treatment for Ebola is good medical care as the immune system works to fight the virus. This includes fluids via IV to keep the body’s electrolytes balanced, close monitoring of blood pressure and oxygen levels in the body, and quick treatment of other complications as they occur.
The chances of an outbreak in the US are very low, according to the CDC, because casual contact does not spread Ebola. The region in West Africa currently experiencing these outbreaks largely has an underdeveloped health care system with scarce resources. In contrast, the US public health system has the resources to stop the condition's spread, including the use of case finding, in which sick people are isolated and people exposed to the sick person are contacted and isolated if they exhibit symptoms.
Since the Ebola virus is only spread through direct contact with infected body fluids, health care professionals and/or immediate family caring for patients symptomatic with the disease are the most at-risk demographic.
Hospitals and other health care facilities are taking US Ebola cases very seriously and using every precaution to ensure the safety of other patients and staff. CDC guidelines for treating Ebola include the placement of possibly infected patients in isolated wards and single rooms with their own bathrooms; the careful management and monitoring of visitors, health care professionals working with patients and other personnel; the recording of symptoms of diagnosed patients; use of Personal Protective Equipment to shield caregivers from patients' body fluids; thorough disposal of needles and sharps; and strict adherence to recommended sanitation and sterilization processes at all times.
The CDC believes the passengers on the flights with people who later became Ebola patients are at little risk of contracting the illness, because the patients in question had no active symptoms while traveling and a person must be symptomatic to pass on Ebola to others. The CDC provides guidelines to airlines for proper disinfection of aircrafts, and procedures were followed for the planes on which the two patients traveled before they got sick. Increased airport security screening has been introduced for travelers who have come from or through the affected countries, but relatively few of the roughly 350 million visitors to the US each year come from West Africa. Travel to regions where any outbreaks are happening, on the other hand, should probably be avoided. Check the CDC website for current travel alerts.
If you’re concerned about any symptoms you may be having, call your health care provider. They may ask if you've had close contact with an Ebola patient or traveled to an infected area within the last 21 days. If the answers to these questions are no, you probably have a more common illness. In the US, patients with fever, vomiting, headache, etc., most likely have a more typical condition, such as food poisoning or the flu. If you have had close contact with an Ebola patient or traveled to an infected area within the last 21 days and have similar symptoms, seek immediate medical care.
Published on October 21, 2014.
Kendra Smith is a health and lifestyle writer living in San Francisco, CA. Katie Lewin is a Bay Area–based writer who covers current events, culture, and health and wellness.
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