About Ebola and What To Do
By: Sari M. Rovira, MPH, BSN, RN
Ebola, previously known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, is a rare and deadly disease caused by infection with one of five Ebola virus strains.
Ebola is NOT spread through the air, by water, or in general, by food. Unlike respiratory illnesses like seasonal flu and the common cold, which can be transmitted by particles that remain suspended in the air after an infected person coughs or sneezes, Ebola is transmitted by DIRECT CONTACT with body fluids of a person who has symptoms of Ebola disease.
When an infection does occur in humans, there are several ways the virus can be spread to others:
- Direct contact with the blood or body fluids of a person who is sick with Ebola. Body fluids include saliva, mucus, vomit, feces, sweat, tears, breast milk, urine, and semen. Direct contact means that body fluids from an infected person (alive or dead) have touched someone’s eyes, nose, or mouth or an open cut, wound, or abrasion on the skin.
- Although coughing and sneezing are not common symptoms of Ebola, if a symptomatic patient with Ebola coughs or sneezes on someone, and saliva or mucus come into contact with that person’s eyes, nose or mouth, these fluids may transmit the disease. The viruses that cause Ebola are often spread among families and friends, because they come in close contact with blood or body fluids when caring for ill persons.
- Ebola can be spread by contact with infected surfaces. Ebola on dried surfaces such as doorknobs and countertops can survive for several hours; however, virus in body fluids (such as blood) can survive up to several days at room temperature. Ebola is killed with hospital-grade disinfectants (such as household bleach).
- Contact with objects (like needles and syringes) that have been contaminated with the blood or body fluids of an infected person or with infected animals.
- Healthcare providers caring for Ebola patients and the family and friends in close contact with Ebola patients are at the highest risk of getting sick because they may come in contact with the blood or body fluids of sick patients.
Signs and Symptoms
A person infected with Ebola is not contagious until symptoms appear.
Signs and Symptoms of Ebola typically include:
- Fever (greater than 38.6°C or 101.5°F)
- Severe headache
- Muscle pain
- Stomach pain
- Unexplained bleeding or bruising
Symptoms may appear anywhere from two (2) to 21 days after exposure to Ebola, but the average is eight (8) to 10 days.
- Wash your hands with soap and water frequently or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and avoid contact with any blood and body fluids.
- Use gloves and other protective gear to handle items that may have come in contact with an infected person’s blood or body fluids (such as clothes, bedding, needles, and medical equipment).
- Avoid funeral or burial rituals that require handling the body of someone who has died from Ebola.
- Avoid contact with bats and nonhuman primates or blood, fluids, and raw meat prepared from these animals.
- Avoid travelling to countries where Ebola is prevalent.
- If you fear an exposure, take your temperature twice a day 21 days and seek medical care immediately if you develop any of the signs and symptoms above.
No FDA-approved vaccine or medicine (e.g., antiviral drug) is available for Ebola.
Symptoms of Ebola are treated as they appear. Experimental vaccines and treatments for Ebola are under development, but they have not yet been fully tested for safety or effectiveness.
Recovery from Ebola depends on good supportive care and the patient’s immune response. People who recover from Ebola infection develop antibodies that last for at least 10 years, possibly longer. It isn’t known if people who recover are immune for life or if they can become infected with a different species of Ebola. Some people who have recovered from Ebola have developed long-term complications, such as joint and vision problems. Once someone recovers from Ebola, they can no longer spread the virus. However, Ebola virus has been found in semen for up to 3 months. People who recover from Ebola are advised to abstain from sex or use condoms for 3 months.
We are also entering into the influenza (flu) season. Flu symptoms my parallel those of Ebola, so when you think that you or someone you know may have flu or Ebola symptoms, it is strongly recommended that a physician be seen as soon as possible.