By Megan Tran, Medical Assistant Intern
With the threat of Ebola becoming a reality for the United States, it is important to be informed about general information on the disease such as the transmission of the virus, signs and symptoms and most importantly, prevention.
So, what is Ebola and why is it so virulent? The first reports occurred in 1976 with two simultaneous outbreaks of Ebola in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The most recent outbreak first occurred in Guinea and spread to bordering countries. To understand its virulence, we must first understand that Ebola is a virus. A virus is merely composed of sequences of DNA and/or RNA and a protein coat (although some are also enclosed by a membrane made up of lipids) which restricts their growth and multiplication process. Viruses cannot multiply on their own and need a host, such as a human or animal. Upon infection, viruses release their DNA or RNA into the host cell, and the virus is then able to take over the cell and begin replicating. Naturally, bats are hosts to the Ebola virus and are unaffected by it. Only when it is transferred to other mammals, such as humans, chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys, forest antelopes and porcupines, does it become threatening. Human infection occurs when a person comes in close contact with any of the following: blood, secretions, organs, urine, saliva, sweat, feces, semen, breast milk or other bodily fluids of infected animals or humans. This also includes contaminated surfaces or materials such as clothing or bedding. The spread of Ebola is not something to take lightly. It takes only one drop of body fluid of an infected patient to infect another. Be aware though that the transmission of this virus occurs via contact with bodily fluid. One area of major concern that is heightened by the media is that the transmission of Ebola is airborne. This is false. In order to be considered airborne, the virus must be able to float freely in the air, survive for an extended period of time in the air, and then infect someone else. Based on current information and research, Ebola is only known to be transmitted via droplets. For example, if someone who is infected sneezes, tiny droplets of saliva and body fluids project outward, travel through the air, and eventually land on a surface. These droplets do not stay suspended in the air and become infectious.
Signs and symptoms, including fever, severe headache, muscle pain, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, unexplained bruising and internal or external bleeding, can appear 2 to 21 days after infection (on average after 8 days). Please note that some of the initial symptoms of Ebola are similar to the flu, and flu season is upon us. If any of these symptoms are present, don’t panic. Most people are at an extremely low risk to contracting Ebola unless they have traveled to West Africa or have previously come in contact with someone who may be infected.
At this moment, there is no vaccine for the Ebola virus. The best thing you can do to prevent the spread of disease is to practice basic hygiene. Wash your hands with soap and water and use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. For health care workers, it’s a different story because they are at the greatest risk, but remember that there are many measures being taken to prevent the spread of diseases such as personal protective equipment, efficient detection and isolation, and necessary protocol set by the Centers for Disease Control.
As a reader, remember what was said before. Most people are at an extremely low risk for contracting the disease, and much is being done to contain the virus in order to keep the general public safe and healthy. If for any reason you believe that you have been exposed to the virus, please visit the emergency room nearest you.
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