- Kathryn Patterson
Ebola: The Facts
I've heard a lot of people talking about the Ebola outbreak in Africa, worrying about such an outbreak happening here in the United States. My gut reaction is that we are basically safe due to our health care system and standard safety practices, but sometimes a gut reaction is wrong. So I did some research as to what we know about Ebola.
In the beginning...Ebola first appear in 1976 in two outbreaks: one in Sudan and one in the Democratic Republic of the Congo next to the Ebola river, hence the name. Scientists believe that local fruit bats are carriers of the virus, and that it jumped from the fruit bats to humans through careless handling of dead fruit bats or dead animals who were bitten by the fruit bats.
Transmission Vectors Transmission vectors are the ways and methods which a virus uses to travel from one host to another. Some viruses trigger coughing and sneezing, using the air as a transmission vector to travel. The Ebola virus relies on bodily fluids to infect a new host. These fluids include blood, saliva, sweat, semen, and other secretions. In fact, a man may carry the virus in his semen for almost two months after recovering. In layman's terms, you need direct contact an infected host's fluids to get the infection. That means either touching an infected person, an infected animal, or an object that contains a fluid, such as sweaty sheets. You CANNOT get the Ebola virus through:
Casual contact (e.g. walking next to someone)
Food grown or legally purchased in the U.S.
The DangerWhy are we so worried about Ebola, unlike the common cold or a host of other viruses? Because Ebola is almost certainly deadly for people who don't get any treatment, and averages about a 50% death rate for people who do get treatment. Actually, the range is 20% - 90% for various outbreaks over the years. Still, that means a person with Ebola in the hospital still has a 1 in 2 chance of dying.
SymptomsThe Ebola virus starts out like any other viral infection, first you get a fever with muscle aches. It then ramps up to one or more of these possibilities:
Unexplained bleeding or bruising
Internal and external bleeding, e.g. bleeding gums or bloody stools
Symptoms of limited liver and kidney functions, such as swelling of the hands, feet, or legs; shortness of breath; weakness; confusion,...
Low platelet count, low white blood cell counts, and elevated liver enzymes in lab work
Symptoms appear anywhere between 2 and 21 days after exposure to the virus. If a person remains symptom-free after 21 days, he does not have the Ebola virus. Also, a person is not contagious until he develops symptoms.