The current Ebola outbreak in West Africa is the world’s deadliest to date. An international team of health care workers is currently in the area trying to control the spread of the disease and stop the outbreak.
What is Ebola?
Ebola is an illness caused by a virus. The symptoms of Ebola start with fever, intense weakness, muscle pain and a sore throat that then progress to vomiting, diarrhea and kidney damage followed by internal and external bleeding. This disease is highly fatal with 60–90 percent (depending on the outbreak) dying from the disease.
How does Ebola spread?
The disease initially infects people through close contact with infected animals like chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats and forest antelope. Once it moves to the human body is can spread from human to human through direct contact with infected blood and bodily fluids, or through indirect contact where the virus lives on surfaces. Almost all bodily fluids are contagious for Ebola including blood, vomiting, feces, urine, sweat, saliva, breast milk and tears. In some cases, the virus will travel from a sneeze, saliva or other fluid on to a surface that others may touch, like a doorknob or tabletop. If someone touches these surfaces, then touches her eyes, nose or mouth before washing her hands, the virus may spread.
Is there an Ebola vaccine and treatment?
If a person becomes very sick with Ebola, she will require intense supportive care. Patients are often dehydrated and need rehydration with special solutions with electrolytes or intravenous fluids, or blood transfusions. Outside of rehydration and supportive care, there are no other treatments currently available.
Currently, there is no licensed vaccine for Ebola. Many are being researched and tested, but none of these will be available during this outbreak.
What happens next?
Liberia has now closed most of its border crossings, and communities hit by an Ebola outbreak face quarantine to try to stop the virus’s spread. All passengers on flights leaving Liberia are being screened for symptoms or exposure, and airports in Europe are implementing monitoring procedures. Public awareness campaigns around Ebola and the steps people can take to stop its spread have also increased in the area.
The World Health Organization (WHO), in partnership with the Ministries of Health in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, is working hard to contain the virus. In addition, America’s Centers for Disease Prevention and Control is working there aiding with testing, disease surveillance and training of workers.
“The important thing for people here in the U.S. to do is be aware of this large scale health crisis affecting patients and health care workers in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea,” says Michelle Niescierenko, MD, Director of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Global Health Program. “Supporting the WHO or the very few organizations that have expertise in responding to Ebola is the most effective way to help.”
Public places in the U.S. are at extremely minimal risk unless you are among returning travelers from the region. If you are traveling by plane, domestically or internationally, wash your hands frequently and follow all screening procedures at the airports. If you are traveling to West Africa, be sure to check the most recent updates close to your departure.