It’s on the news every night and plastered all over the internet. We can’t turn on the TV without hearing about the thousands of people who have died of the Ebola virus in Africa, the man who died of the virus in Dallas, or the two nurses who became infected while treating him. After being bombarded with news about the Ebola virus, it’s easy to become anxious about how it might affect our lives. Making matters worse, the market is full of self-published books and articles about the virus that play on our fears, but offer little reliable information.
How afraid do we really need to be of the Ebola virus? Before you rush out to buy a Hazmat suit, find out the facts. There’s plenty of good information out there. Here are links to a few helpful resources:
- MedLine Plus is the National Institutes of Health’s website with articles produced by the National Library of Medicine. It offers numerous articles on the Ebola virus, and has several articles written for children, with additional information for parents and teachers. There is also a Spanish-language version of MedLine Plus.
- Health and Wellness Resource Center — This database offers access to carefully compiled and trusted medical reference materials, including nearly 400 health/medical journals, hundreds of pamphlets, health-related videos and articles from 2,200 general interest publications.
- World Health Organization — The WHO has a helpful fact sheet on the Ebola virus.
- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has compiled a list of information resources related to the outbreak.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website includes the organization’s latest efforts to prevent the spread of the virus in the United States:.
- For more local information, check out the Tennessee Department of Health website. The information on the site is also available in Spanish.
Here are some basic facts about the Ebola Virus that you should be aware of:
- Flu is a bigger threat — Yes, there are vaccines and medicines for the flu, and there aren’t for Ebola. But Ebola is much rarer and harder to catch. Your chances of getting Ebola are almost zero unless you’ve traveled to a place where there’s an outbreak or you’ve been directly exposed to the bodily fluids of someone who has symptoms.
- As with any illness or disease, it is always possible that a person who has been exposed to Ebola virus may choose to travel. If the individual has not developed symptoms they cannot transmit EVD to those around them. If the individual does have symptoms, they should seek immediate medical attention at the first sign they are feeling unwell. This may require either notifying the flight crew or ship crew or, upon arrival at a destination, seeking immediate medical attention. Travellers who show initial symptoms of EVD should be isolated to prevent further transmission. Although the risk to fellow travellers in such a situation is very low, contact tracing is recommended under these circumstances. While travellers should always be vigilant with regard to their health and those around them, the risk of infection for travellers is very low since person-to-person transmission results from direct contact with the body fluids or secretions of an infected patient.
- The virus doesn’t spread through air or by water. You can’t get it just by breathing the same air. The Ebola virus can only be passed through bodily fluids. To infect you, the virus has to go into your body, such as an infected person sneezing in your face. The most infectious are blood, stool, and vomit. Bodily fluids also include breast milk, urine, semen, tears, and saliva. You can also get it from contaminated needles, sheets, soiled clothing, and other objects that have come into contact with infected bodily fluids.
- People with Ebola can’t pass it along until they start to feel sick. It can take 2 to 21 days for symptoms to appear, but it usually happens in just over a week. The first signs — fever, muscle ache, headache, and a sore throat — can look like malaria, typhoid fever, and even the flu. Later symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhea, and bleeding inside the body and from the eyes, ears, nose, or mouth.
- Severely ill patients require intensive supportive care. The main debilitation of this virus is dehydration, and patients will be given oral rehydration with solutions containing electrolytes or intravenous fluids. There is currently no specific treatment to cure the disease. Some patients will recover with the appropriate medical care.
- People are infectious only as long as their blood and secretions contain the virus. For this reason, infected patients receive close monitoring from medical professionals and receive laboratory tests to ensure the virus is no longer circulating in their systems before they return home. When the medical professionals determine it is okay for the patient to return home, they are no longer infectious and cannot infect anyone else in their communities. Men who have recovered from the illness can still spread the virus to their partner through their semen for up to 7 weeks after recovery. For this reason, it is important for men to avoid sexual intercourse for at least 7 weeks after recovery or to wear condoms if having sexual intercourse during 7 weeks after recovery. Likewise, women should not breast-feed during that time, in case it’s in their breast milk.
- To help control further spread of the virus, people that are suspected or confirmed to have the disease should be isolated from other patients and treated by health workers using strict infection control precautions.