For months we've been hearing about the deadly outbreak of the Ebola virus in Africa that has killed more than 3,000 and infected thousands more in Guinea, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Senegal. But this week the dangerous hemorrhagic fever became headline news on American shores when the first confirmed Ebola case in the United States was disclosed, setting off a panic about the the extremely infectious disease.
So the question many are asking now is: Should we be worried about catching Ebola? Will I get it if the person next to me in class, or on the subway sneezes or coughs on me? Can I pick it up from a doorknob or a handshake? Don't panic: MTV News separates fact from fiction.
What Is Ebola And Where Did It Start?
Ebola hemorrhagic fever is a disease caused by five different viruses that was first identified in Africa in 1976 in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was named after the Ebola River in Africa and the exact origin and natural host are unknown, according to the Centers for Disease Control. There are five known strains, four of which cause sicken humans and a fifth, the Reston virus, that has sickened animals, but does not appear to be dangerous to man.
How Is The Ebola Virus Transmitted?
Though Ebola is very infectious (a very small amount can cause illness), it is not very contagious because the virus is not transmitted through the air like other diseases such as the flu. Human-to-human infection can occur if someone comes into contact with bodily fluids or contaminated objects from an infected patient, as well as infected animals.
Is Ebola An Airborne Disease? Can It Spread Through The Water Supply?
Ebola cannot spread through the air or water, or food.
How Can You Tell If You Or Someone You Know Has Been Infected? What Are The Symtpoms??
In addition to weakness, pain, vomiting, diarrhea, blindness, shock, stomach pain, rash, red eyes, sore throat and difficulty swallowing, symptoms can include fever and internal bleeding. Those (and other) symptoms typically appear 8-10 days after exposure, with an incubation period (the time between exposure and the first sign of symptoms) that can last up to three weeks. CDC officials said they are not overly concerned about a widespread outbreak in the U.S. because of precautionary measures they've taken and the higher quality of health care in this country. However, if untreated Ebola can also cause death.
Should I Be Worried About Catching It?
Anyone who has come into contact with bodily fluids from an infected person, as well as health care workers who are not using proper protection when treating patients is at risk for Ebola. You can avoid infection by avoiding contact with bodily fluids and hospitals where Ebola patients are treated. In other words, you won't catch it from just being around an Ebola patient. And as of now, the CDC says doctors are carefully working to ensure that the disease is restricted to the infected patient being treated in Dallas.
How Did Ebola Get To The U.S.?
The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention announced on Tuesday that an unnamed person who traveled from Liberia to Dallas was confirmed to have Ebola. The patient, who is listed in serious condition, didn't have symptoms when leaving West Africa, but developed them four days after arriving in the U.S. on September 20. He was hospitalized on September 28 and based on his travel history and symptoms, the CDC isolated the patient and sent specimens for testing, which came back with a positive result.
At this point, because the patient didn't exhibit Ebola symptoms on the flight, the CDC is not recommending people on the flights he was on undergo monitoring because Ebola is only contagious if the person is experiencing active symptoms. But as a precaution, they are trying to identify anyone who had close personal contact with the patient.
"Ebola can be scary. But there’s all the difference in the world between the U.S. and parts of Africa where Ebola is spreading," CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said in a statement on Tuesday. "The United States has a strong health care system and public health professionals who will make sure this case does not threaten our communities. While it is not impossible that there could be additional cases associated with this patient in the coming weeks, I have no doubt that we will contain this."
Have Doctors Figured Out A Cure For It?
Right now, there's no vaccine or antiviral medicine that has been proven effective against Ebola, but doctors can treat the symptoms as they occur, including IV fluids, maintaining proper blood pressure and oxygen status and treating infections. An experimental drug, ZMapp, has been tested on some Afrcican Ebola victims and healthcare workers but it is in short supply and hasn't undergone the required clinical trial yet.
If I Get It, Will I Always Have It?
The good news is that people who recover from Ebola typically develop antibodies that last for 10 years or more. Two missionary physicians from the U.S. who contracted Ebola were flown to Atlanta in August for treatment and both recovered within several weeks.
Where Can I Get More Information?