Now that the virus has officially been confirmed in the United States, here are the basics on Ebola—and why you don't need to panic.
When the first case of Ebola was confirmed in the U.S. this week, the disease that has already killed more than 3,000 in West Africa hit a lot closer to home. The good news is that you’re probably not going to contract Ebola. With all of the rumors and scary stories floating around, here’s what you wanted to know about the Ebola virus, but were afraid to ask.
Where did it come from?
The latest outbreak of Ebola that’s running rampant through West Africa is the worst in history, but it’s not the first time we’ve seen the virus. Since 1976, outbreaks have been reported throughout Africa. Past outbreaks have been linked to gorilla hunting and consumption of apes, but because gorillas don’t live in West Africa, experts believe this outbreak stems from fruit bats, The Atlantic reports.
Why has it been so hard to get Ebola under control?
This outbreak has been particularly challenging to contain for multiple reasons. First of all, people travel farther and more often than they did during past outbreaks, giving the virus legs. In addition to travel, traditional funeral practices in Africa often involve washing the bodies before burying them. Touching the deceased, whose bodily fluids are highly contagious, is a common way for the virus spread. Plus, supplies are limited in many of the countries affected. “Simple things like gloves and gowns for health workers aren’t as available [as they are in the U.S.],” Dr. Jake Deutsch, founder and clinical director of CURE Urgent Care in New York, tells RealSimple.com.
What are the symptoms of Ebola?
The Ebola virus often comes with a sudden fever, headache, sore throat, muscle weakness, and muscle pain. These first symptoms are usually followed by vomiting or diarrhea, a rash, kidney or liver problems, and sometimes internal or external bleeding. “The layperson needs to know that when someone has this, it’s like a flu on steroids,” says Deutsch. But it’s really the bleeding that’s a huge red flag, he warns.
Does everyone who contracts Ebola die?
No. Not everyone who contracts the virus dies of it. While more than 3,000 people have died from Ebola so far, more than 6,500 cases across Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea have been reported.
How does it spread?
The virus is spread through human-to-human transmission or through bodily fluids found on soiled bed sheets, clothing, or needles that came into contact with the infected patient, according to the World Health Organization. It is not air-borne, so even riding a plane with an infected person only becomes a risk when bodily fluids are transmitted.
Who is most at risk?
The people most at risk for contracting Ebola are family members who live with an infected person, those at funerals mourning the loss of someone who died from the virus or health officials working to treat and contain the disease.
Is it going to spread in the U.S. like it did in Africa?
“Absolutely not,” Deutsch says. “We know how it’s transmitted through bodily fluids and the ability to contain it is much more effective here than in West Africa.”
He did note that it’s possible we’ll see more cases from those who are traveling to Ebola-stricken countries, but the average person has little to worry about. The only way to catch Ebola is to come in direct contact with bodily fluids of someone who already has it and is showing symptoms. Doctors and health officials working with Ebola take extreme precautions to help stop Ebola from spreading.