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What is Ebola virus disease?
Ebola virus disease is a rare but serious disease caused by infection with the Ebola virus. It was first identified in 1976 near the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire).
Since March of 2014, there have been outbreaks of Ebola virus disease in the West African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. Nigeria and Senegal also reported a small number of cases, but the virus has been contained in these countries. On average, Ebola virus disease leads to death in about half of the people who are infected.
What are the symptoms of Ebola virus disease?
Symptoms usually appear 8 to 10 days after a person is infected with the Ebola virus. The virus cannot be spread to another person until symptoms appear.
Early symptoms can include:
- Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
- Muscle pain
- Sore throat
Later symptoms can include:
- Stomach pain
- Unexplained bleeding (for example, a bloody nose, bloodshot eyes, or bloody diarrhea) or bruising
Causes & Risk Factors
How is the Ebola virus spread?
The Ebola virus is not spread as easily as common viruses like colds or the flu. It is not spread through the air, or in water or food. There is no evidence that mosquitoes or other insects can spread the Ebola virus.
The Ebola virus is spread through direct contact with:
- Blood of a person infected with the Ebola virus
- Body fluids (for example, breast milk, stool, saliva, semen, sweat, urine, or vomit) of a person infected with the Ebola virus
- Objects (for example, needles or syringes) that have been contaminated with the Ebola virus
Direct contact means that a person's eyes, mouth, nose, or broken skin touches a contaminated object, or infected blood or body fluids. Broken skin may be a cut, scratch, scrape, or open wound.
Is a person who recovers from Ebola virus disease still contagious?
A person who has fully recovered from Ebola virus disease is no longer contagious. However, men who have recovered from the disease can still pass on the virus in their semen for up to 3 months after their symptoms first appear. They should not have sex (including oral sex) during this time.
Am I at risk of getting Ebola virus disease?
For most people, the risk of being infected with the Ebola virus is extremely low. The risk is increased if you:
- Travel to an area where Ebola virus outbreaks have occurred
- Help take care of someone infected with the Ebola virus
- Have direct contact with the dead body of a person infected with the Ebola virus. An infected body can still spread the virus.
Diagnosis & Tests
How will my doctor know if I have Ebola virus disease?
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms. He or she will also ask whether you are at increased risk of getting Ebola virus disease. For example, your doctor will ask if you recently traveled to an area where outbreaks have occurred. If your doctor thinks that you may have Ebola virus disease, he or she will use a blood test to be sure.
If Ebola virus disease is diagnosed, you will be isolated from the public immediately to prevent the virus from spreading.
Is there a vaccine for Ebola virus disease?
There is currently no vaccine available to protect against the Ebola virus. However, scientists are working on 2 vaccines that may be available in the future.
How can I keep the Ebola virus from spreading?
You can prevent the spread of the Ebola virus by doing the following:
- Avoid traveling to areas where there is an increased risk of getting Ebola virus disease.
- Do not touch the blood or body fluids of a person who may be infected with the Ebola virus.
- Do not touch the body of a person who has died from Ebola virus disease.
- Do not touch items that may have been contaminated by the Ebola virus.
- Call your doctor immediately if you are at increased risk of being infected and you develop any of the symptoms of Ebola virus disease. Tell your doctor about your symptoms and your risk factors (for example, all recent travel). Avoid contact with other people until you get medical care.
How is Ebola virus disease treated?
There is currently no medicine available to treat Ebola virus disease. Some experimental medicines are being tested.
The main treatment for Ebola virus disease is care that manages symptoms by:
- Giving fluids to prevent dehydration
- Regulating and replacing salts and other chemicals in the body
- Maintaining blood pressure
- Providing oxygen (if needed)
- Treating other infections (if needed)
Close supervision and care by health care professionals is very important. A patient with Ebola virus disease may need intensive care unit (ICU) services.
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.