The What, Where, and How of Ebola

By Todd Norman

You've probably heard of the Ebola virus disease, you may have even heard about the recent outbreak in Bas Uélé, DRC, but what do you know about it? What do doctors and scientists know about it? Could it affect your health and well being? How can you prevent it? If someone is infected, is it curable?

Do we know where it came from?

The answer to that question is yes... and no. We generally know how the disease is transmitted to humans; what we don't know for certain is where the disease originates.

While we are uncertain of a specific origin to the disease, it is thought that a certain breed of fruit bats are the natural Ebola virus host. The disease can then be spread to other animals.

Ebola is transmitted to humans through contact with infected animals' blood, secretions, organs, or other bodily fluids. It can be an animal that is still alive or dead. The disease can then be transmitted to other humans the same way through contact with open wounds, blood, secretions, or other bodily fluids.

When did it first become noticed, and where has it affected people?

The Ebola Virus was discovered in 1976, when two simultaneous outbreaks occurred. One was in what is now South Sudan, and the other in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The disease derives its name from the Ebola River near where the latter outbreak occurred. Since then, there have been sporadic outbreaks throughout Africa.

The recent outbreak from 2014-2016 has been the largest and most complex outbreak since it was originally discovered. There were more than cases and deaths than all other outbreaks combined. There were 28,616 reported cases and 11,310 deaths, according to the Center for Disease Control.

Previously reported cases had been in mostly rural areas. In 2014 it broke out in urban areas; and, therefore, spread more quickly.

Since then, there has only been an isolated case in Italy and a small outbreak of 8 reported cases and 4 deaths in northern DRC. Except the 2015 Italy case (likely contracted in Sierra Leone), all cases of Ebola to date have been reported only on the African continent.

Can it be prevented?

The best prevention, obviously, is to avoid traveling to those areas that have reported cases of the Ebola virus disease. The U.S. Embassy or consulate can provide specific information on areas and facilities to avoid.

If traveling to areas with the disease, reduce contact with wildlife: especially fruit bats, monkeys/apes, and raw meat. Practice careful hygiene, wash your hands with soap and water regularly.

Avoid touching anything that may have come in contact with a diseased persons blood, or bodily fluids. Don't participate in funeral rituals which involve handling in any way the body of someone who was infected with the Virus.

What are the symptoms?

It takes about 2 - 21 days after being infected by the disease to start showing symptoms. A person is not infections until they start exhibiting symptoms.
According to the World Health Organization, the first onset of symptoms includes: a fever, fatigue, muscle pain, headache, and a sore throat. There are additional symptoms; diarrhea, vomiting, abominable pain, and unexplained bleeding and bruising.

How is it treated?

Ultimately, the Ebola virus disease can be fatal. There is currently no FDA approved vaccine or medicine available to treat Ebola. There are experimental treatments under development but have not yet been fully tested.
A patient's survival is dependent on their own immune system response and their health care. Symptoms are treated as they are exhibited. A patient who overcomes Ebola develops antibodies that are effective for at least ten years. 
It takes time even after recovery for the Ebola Virus to leave certain bodily fluids, for example, semen. And the amount of time it takes for Ebola to leave varies for each man.
For now, scientists continue to work to understand Ebola better and to help better treat the disease..
For more resources and information on the Ebola Virus, we recommend looking at the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization.
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