On September 30, 2014, doctors in Texas diagnosed the first case of Ebola in the U.S. in a patient who recently returned from Africa. With more than 4,000 known cases and a fatality rate of up to 90%, this Ebola outbreak is the deadliest in history, since the virus was discovered in 1976. As fear of an outbreak in the United States continues to spread, health officials urge everyone not to panic, stating that the U.S. healthcare system is fully equipped to deal with the virus.
Here are five of the most commonly asked questions about Ebola, along with answers from top doctors from HealthTap.
1. What is the Ebola Virus?
Ebola was first recognized in 1976 as the cause of outbreaks of disease in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then known as zaire) and in Sudan. Ebola produces one of the most deadly forms of viral hemorrhagic fevers. Exactly how the ebola virus enters cells is unknown at present. The ebola virus appears to infect many different cell types. It can infect various mammals, not just primates. - Dr. Robert Kwok
Ebola is a type of virus which causes hemorrhagic fever. It is a severe, often deadly illness in humans and some animals (like monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees). There is no cure for the disease as today. - Dr. Victor Nwanguma
Ebola Virus causes hemorrhagic fever, a viral disease that causes bleeding and shock in patients. - Dr. Jeff M. Livingston
Ebola virus is a filovirus found primarily in Central Africa that causes a hemorrhagic fever that is frequently fatal. - Dr. Larry-Lutwick
Of 5 species of ebola, 3 (BDBV,EBOV,SUD: Africa) have 90% fatality. Spread by contact blood, secretions & body fluids, broken skin and mucus membranes. - Dr. Forrest Jones
2. What are the symptoms of Ebola?
Early signs and symptoms include fever severe, headache joint, and muscle aches, chills, sore throat, weakness over time. Symptoms become increasingly severe and may include: nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, red eyes, raised rash, chest pain and cough, stomach pain, severe weight loss, bleeding. - Dr. Ahmad M Hadied
Abrupt onset of fever, muscle aches and headache followed by nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, chest pain, cough and sore throat. Other common features are photophobia, swollen lymph glands, yellow jaundice and pancreatitis. Central nervous system symptoms up to and including coma develop and as the disease progresses bleeding manifestations develop. 50-90% of patients die. - Dr. Michael Ein
The symptoms of Ebola virus infection are relatively non-specific in a diagnostic sense. You must develop fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea followed shortly by liver, kidney failure and problems with hemostasis. This must occur in the appropriate epidemiologic context for one to think about Ebola as a possible cause. There are other causes of hemorrhagic fevers, including Dengue. - Dr. Martin Raff
3. How is it spread?
The virus may be acquired upon contact with blood or bodily fluids of an infected animal (commonly monkeys or fruit bats). Spread through the air has not been documented in the natural environment.Fruit bats are believed to carry and spread the virus without being affected. Once human infection occurs, the disease may spread between people as well. Male survivors may be able to transmit the disease via semen for nearly two months. - Dr. Michael Finkelstein
By contact with the body fluids of infected people. Some animals presumably serve as reservoirs of infection between human outbreaks, but the details haven’t been worked out. - Dr. Joel Gallant
Ebola is spread by direct contact with an infected individual or the body and fluids of an infected person. So unless you are planning a trip to West Africa, you almost certainly cannot encounter Ebola. - Dr. Richard Bensinger
4. Is there a cure or treatment for Ebola?
Ebola has no cure or meaningful treatment other than to provide support to failing systems until the person recovers. The patient must be place in a level 4 isolation to prevent spread. In a rural village in an area with no real medical care calling in medicine sans frontiers might help, but most likely the village or at least all who are sick are doomed. - Dr. William Walsh
No treatment yet for Ebola. Thus it is best to focus on prevention. The health authorities in western Africa have been trying hard to educate and limit this outbreak, but it’s more difficult than they realized. A good reminder to us all to take health prevention seriously– everywhere and at all times. It’s the best way to stay healthy. - Dr. Stephen Scholand
Currently, there isn’t a cure for Ebola. The patient may be hospitalized, placed in isolation & provided intensive care measures such as: oxygen, medication to maintain blood pressure, blood transfusions (platelets or fresh blood), intravenous fluids & electrolytes & treatment of co-existing infections. Zmapp is a biopharmacuetical drug that is being used experimentally for Ebola. - Dr. Heidi A. Fowler
“Supportive care” is the best treatment. Basically treat the symptoms as they appear with; -Intravenous fluids (IV) and electrolytes -Maintaining oxygen status and blood pressure [Symptoms=vomiting, diarrhea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases bleeding] Some experimental immune and drug therapies have been administered to Westerners that contracted the virus. - Dr. Varun Verma
5. How can we protect ourselves?
Prevention includes decreasing the spread of disease from infected monkeys and pigs to humans. This may be done by checking such animals for infection and killing and properly disposing of the bodies if the disease is discovered. Properly cooking meat and wearing protective clothing when handling meat may also be helpful, as are wearing protective clothing and washing hands when around a person with the disease. Samples of bodily fluids and tissues from people with the disease should be handled with special caution. - - Dr. Michael Finkelstein
Avoid areas where the disease is occurring. Stay away from infected individuals and corpses of victims of the disease. - Dr. Phillip Goebel
Prevention – avoid travel to countries in West Africa affected by Ebola epidemic. Medical personnel should don gown, gloves, & mask when dealing w patients who may be infected with Ebola. - Dr. Heidi A. Fowler
Cases must be isolated, caregivers enclosed in hazard suits, and the dead cremated to destroy the virus. Unfortunately during the day or two of pre-manifestation, the victim could be shedding virus without know of the infection. - Dr. Richard Bensinger
For more information, visit the Ebola Virus page on HealthTap or ask our doctors for advice now.