What Is Ebola?
The Ebola virus is a serious and deadly disease
transmitted by animals and humans. Scientists initially detected the Ebola
virus disease (EVD) in 1976 in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Researchers
named the disease after the Ebola River that flows in the Congo.
Although the Ebola virus has been present for
more than 35 years, an outbreak occurred in March 2014 that began in West
Africa. This outbreak has proven more deadly, severe, and widespread than
What Causes Ebola?
The Ebola virus belongs to the
viral family Filoviridae. Scientists
also call it Filovirus. These virus types cause hemorrhagic fever or profuse
bleeding inside and outside the body accompanied by a very high fever. Ebola
can be further divided into subtypes that are named for the location they were
identified. These include:
- Taï Forest (previously known as Ivory Coast)
The Ebola virus likely originated
in African fruit bats. The virus is known as a “zoonotic” virus because it’s
transmitted to humans from animals. Humans can also transfer the virus to each
other. Other animals known to transmit the virus include:
- forest antelopes
Since people may handle these
infected animals, the virus can be transmitted via the animal’s blood and body
fluids. Once people become infected with Ebola, they can transmit it to others
if people come in contact with their:
- breast milk
- semen (According to the
CDC, Ebola can live in the semen for as long as three months.)
These bodily fluids can all carry
Ebola virus. People can get Ebola when they come in contact with these fluids
via the eyes, nose, mouth, or broken skin. Healthcare workers are especially at
risk for experiencing Ebola because they often deal with blood and bodily
Ebola can also be spread through
sticks from infected objects, such as needles, and interactions with infected
animals. To date, Ebola is only known to be transmitted from infected mammals and
humans. Insects like mosquitoes are not linked with carrying Ebola.
What Are the Symptoms of Ebola?
According to the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC), Ebola symptoms can take as long as three
weeks to appear. Disease symptoms include:
- muscle pain
- stomach pain
- unexplained bleeding or bruising
People should seek immediate
medical care if they have a fever greater than 101.5 F or any other symptoms
associated with the Ebola virus.
How Is Ebola Diagnosed?
The early symptoms of Ebola can closely mimic other diseases
like the flu, malaria and typhoid fever. People who have Ebola should be
immediately isolated to protect against further transmissions.
Blood tests can identify antibodies or the Ebola virus when
people show the first symptoms of what could be Ebola. Blood tests may also
reveal low white blood cell counts, low platelet counts, and high liver
If a person recovers from Ebola, they also will develop
certain antibodies to the disease in their blood that confirm the disease was Ebola.
In addition to blood tests, a doctor will also consider the person’s activities
and whether they have come in contact with anyone who could have Ebola.
How Is Ebola Treated?
The Ebola virus does not have a cure or vaccine at this time.
Instead, measures are taken to keep the person as comfortable as possible.
Supportive care measures include:
- giving medications to maintain blood pressure
- managing electrolyte balances
- providing extra oxygen, if needed
- providing intravenous fluids to prevent
- treating co-existing infections and preventing
other infections from occurring
People’s immune systems can
respond differently to Ebola. While some may recover from the virus without
complication, others can have residual effects like joint problems.
Individuals can take several precautions to protect against Ebola.
These steps include:
- avoiding contact with blood and body fluids
- educating themselves on recognizing the disease
and preventing it
- practicing careful hand hygiene, including
washing hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
- refraining from engaging in burial rituals that
involve handling the body of a person who died from Ebola
- refraining from handling items a person with Ebola
has handled, including clothing, bedding, needles, or medical equipment
Healthcare workers and lab technicians also must practice very
careful precautions. This includes isolating people with Ebola and wearing
protective gowns, gloves, masks, and eye shields when coming in contact with
the infected person or their belongings. Careful protocol and disposal of these
protective materials is also vital for infection prevention.
Cleaning crews should use a bleach solution to clean floors
and surfaces that may have come in contact with the Ebola virus.
What Is the Survival Outlook for Ebola?
According to the World Health Organization,
the average Ebola case fatality rate is 50 percent. However, some virus strains
are deadlier than others. According to the Public
Health Agency of Canada, the Zaire and Sudan viral strains have a 90
percent fatality rate.