You may have heard a lot about Ebola lately. A new outbreak of this disease has spread through the West African countries of Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and, most recently, Nigeria. Researchers think this outbreak began in December 2013. Since then, nearly 2,000 people have become infected with the Ebola virus, and more than 1,000 have died from it. Scientists and doctors are working to stop its spread, and to care for the people who are infected.
In late July, two American aid workers in West Africa became infected with Ebola. They were brought back to the United States for treatment. Many Americans are wondering if the virus could become a problem here. Experts say there is no need to worry. Read on to find out why, and to learn the answers to some other common questions about Ebola.
MICHAEL DUFF—AP PHOTO
What is Ebola?
Ebola, or Ebola hemorrhagic fever (Ebola HF), is a contagious and life-threatening disease. It affects humans and other primates, including monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees. Ebola gets its name from the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The disease was first reported in a village on the river in 1976.
What are the symptoms of Ebola?
The early symptoms include fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, weakness, chills, difficulty breathing, and a sore throat. As the disease becomes worse, diarrhea, vomiting, and bleeding inside and outside of the body may start to occur. The first signs of infection can appear anywhere from 2 to 21 days after exposure to the virus.
How does Ebola spread?
Experts are not sure how an Ebola outbreak starts. The virus spreads from direct contact with bodily fluids—including blood, saliva, sweat, and urine—of infected people and animals. Animals in Africa believed to carry Ebola include other primates, fruit bats, porcupines, and forest antelope.
Doctors and nurses are at a high risk of infection because they come into physical contact with Ebola patients. Also, family members who care for infected relatives are more likely to catch the disease, especially if they don’t wear proper protective equipment, such as gloves and masks.
Can Ebola be treated?
Yes. Most people who become infected with Ebola need special care in a hospital. Treatment includes making sure they get plenty of liquids and oxygen, keeping their blood pressure steady, and addressing symptoms and complications as they come up. Patients also need to be kept from the public to help prevent the disease from spreading.
There is no cure for Ebola, but doctors are working on a vaccine to prevent it. Some experimental drugs have been developed to treat the disease. They have been effective in animals, but have not yet been approved for testing on humans.
Are we safe in the United States?
Yes. There have been no reported cases of Ebola spreading to the U.S. The two American aid workers who recently became infected with Ebola in West Africa were flown back to the U.S. and hospitalized immediately. While Ebola is contagious, it is not as contagious as the flu. Special medical planes and vehicles were used to transport the infected patients to prevent the disease from spreading.
ABBAS DULLEH—AP PHOTO
A man gets his temperature taken before he is allowed into a business center in Monrovia, Liberia.
Can the Ebola outbreak be stopped?
Yes. Experts know how to control Ebola. They are now working to stop the outbreak in West Africa, which is the best way to protect people in the U.S. and around the world. Once Ebola is brought under control in the infected countries, there will be no new cases and the virus will stop spreading. However, experts are unsure of how long it will take to end the current Ebola outbreak.
How is the U.S. helping?
Disease specialists have been sent to West Africa by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help slow the spread of Ebola.