Ebola and the West Africa Outbreak
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ebola hemorrhagic fever or Ebola virus disease (EVD) is a severe and often deadly virus found in humans and primates such as chimpanzees and gorillas. It is still unknown how the virus first appears in humans at the start of an outbreak, although scientists believe an individual is infected through contact with an infected animal.
In humans, the virus can be passed from person to person in a number of ways including direct contact with the blood or other bodily fluids of an infected individual and exposure to objects (such as needles) that have been in contact with infected secretions
Because of the nature of transmission, Ebola can spread quickly within health care settings without adequate sterilization procedures and those working with infected individuals are at a higher risk of contracting the disease, as are friends and family. Symptoms of Ebola typically include fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain and lack of appetite. These symptoms can occur anywhere from 2-21 days after exposure to the virus, however most begin around days 8-10. Some infected individuals may recover, while many do not (Ebola outbreaks have a fatality rate of up to 90%). There is currently no cure for Ebola, therefore treatment is limited to balancing the patient’s fluids, maintaining oxygen status, and treating complicating infections. Isolation precautions and proper sterilization are the primary methods of prevention.
As of August 1, 2014, “the World Health Organization, in partnership with the Ministries of Health in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Nigeria announced a cumulative total of 1603 suspect and confirmed cases of Ebola virus disease (EVD) and 887 deaths”. This is the largest Ebola outbreak in history and the first of its kind in West Africa. Because of this, the CDC has issues a number of level 3 travel notices and has set up a screening process for those traveling to and from Africa.
Currently, no individuals have contracted Ebola in the United States, however two American healthcare professionals working in Liberia have contracted the virus and been transported for treatment to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. In light of this, a number of precautions have been put into place and the CDC has determined that the spread of Ebola poses no significant risk in the United States.
For the most recent updates on the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, visit the CDC’s West Africa Outbreak page. Information for the public, travelers, and healthcare workers is also available from the CDC.