West African Ebola Virus

What is Ebola? Perhaps no virus has ever struck as much fear in people as Ebola, the cause of a deadly outbreak in West Africa. Over 13,000 cases reported as of November 2nd, and 4,800 of those have died. Those cases have included 5 Americans who have been brought back to the U.S. for treatment in isolation units at Nebraska and Georgia hospitals. Ebola is caused by an infection of the Filovirae bacterium. Out of the 5 types of Ebola, 4 are known threats to humans. (DeNoon)

The Ebola strain in the current outbreak is the most lethal of the five known strains of the virus. This virus usually kills up to 9 out of 10 infected people. But the high death rate might be due to a lack of modern medical care, Adalja says. “It’s hard to say exactly what the rate would be in a modern hospital with all of its intensive care units.” The CDC said in July the Ebola death rate in the West African outbreak is about 6 in 10, rather than 9 in 10. That shows that early treatment efforts have been effective, says Stephan Monroe, deputy director of the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases at the CDC.

At first, the symptoms are like a bad case of the flu: high fever, muscle aches, headache, sore throat, and weakness. They are followed quickly by vomiting, diarrhea, and internal and external bleeding, which can spread the virus. The kidneys and liver begin to fail. Ebola Zaire kills people quickly, typically 7 to 14 days after symptoms appear, Adalja says. A person can have the virus but not show any symptoms for as long as 3 weeks, he says. People who survive can still have the virus in their system for weeks afterward.

Ebola isn’t as contagious as more common viruses, such as colds, influenza, or measles. It spreads to people by close contact with skin and bodily fluids from infected animals. Then it spreads from person to person the same way. “The key message is to minimize bodily fluid...

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