Ebola virus disease, also called Ebola hemorrhagic fever or just Ebola, is a serious disease that often causes death.
According to the World Health Organization, the average Ebola case fatality rate is greater than 50 percent. In the past, during other outbreaks, the rate has ranged from 25 percent to as high as 90 percent.
Scientists have identified five Ebola virus strains, four of which cause disease in humans.
Ebola outbreaks started in Africa. Scientists think the virus is transmitted from wild animals to humans. These animals include fruit bats, monkeys, gorillas, chimpanzees and antelope. Humans can become infected by coming into contact with fluids or organs from infected animals.
A person infected with Ebola can’t spread the disease until symptoms appear.
Symptoms appear after the incubation period, which can last from two to 21 days. The incubation period is the time between when a person is exposed to the infection and when the person begins to experience symptoms. The average incubation time is eight to 10 days.
The first symptoms of Ebola include a fever (higher than 101.5 degrees F) that comes on quickly.
Other early symptoms include:
- Muscle pain
- Sore throat
Later symptoms include:
- Kidney problems
- Liver problems
- Bleeding, both internal and external, including bloody gums and stool
- Lab tests showing low numbers of white blood cells and platelets and high levels of liver enzymes
Ebola is spread through direct contact with the blood, organs and body fluids of a person who is showing symptoms of the virus. Ebola is not spread through the air, water or food.
To spread, the body fluids of the sick person must come in direct contact with a second person. This means the virus enters the second person through the second person’s broken skin or mucus membranes. Objects such as needles, that have been contaminated with the blood or body fluids of a person sick with Ebola can spread the virus too.
Transmission also can occur through direct contact with surfaces, items, and materials such as bedding or clothing that have been contaminated with the body fluids of a sick person.
Infected people are still infectious for as long as the virus remains in the body’s fluids. For instance, the semen of men who have had Ebola and recovered can still transmit the virus for up to seven weeks after recovery. Women can transmit the virus through breast milk.
There is no Ebola vaccine, but you can take steps to protect yourself against the virus.
There is no FDA-approved vaccine available for Ebola. While experimental vaccines and treatments for Ebola are under development, they have not yet been fully tested for safety or effectiveness.
Everyone should practice good hygiene by washing their hands frequently. This is especially true for healthcare providers and laboratory employees who come into contact with fluids or specimens from confirmed or suspected cases of Ebola virus disease.
Here’s how you can protect yourself:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Don’t touch the blood or body fluids, such as urine, feces, saliva, vomit, sweat and semen, of people who are sick.
- Don’t handle items that may have come in contact with a sick person’s blood or body fluids, such as clothes, bedding, needles or medical equipment.
- Don’t touch the body of someone who has died of Ebola.
Immediate family and friends who have had close contact with an Ebola virus patient are at the highest risk of getting sick.
Healthcare workers who have taken care of a patient with the Ebola virus also are at risk.
Anyone who has been in contact with the blood or body fluids of an Ebola patient is at risk of getting sick. This includes people who may have been involved in burying someone with Ebola.
Contact with infected wildlife also can put you at risk of getting sick.
Ebola virus disease can only be confirmed through laboratory testing.
Early symptoms, such as fatigue or fever, look like many other illnesses. So knowing whether the ill person has been exposed to infected blood or fluids is important.
There is no specific and proven treatment to cure Ebola.
Right now, treatment means treating symptoms by giving fluids and oxygen and treating any other infections that occur. These support methods help the patients cope with the illness and helps to improve survival.
If a person has symptoms and has been in an area known to have Ebola virus disease or in contact with a person known or suspected to have Ebola, he or she should seek medical care immediately.
Prompt medical care is essential to improving the rate of survival. It is also important to control spread of the disease.
World Health Organization. Ebola virus disease.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ebola (Ebola Virus Disease).
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What You Need to Know About Ebola.