The virus, first detected in the Democratic Republic of the Congo near the Ebola River in 1976, has seen an unprecedented spread in recent weeks, earning this year’s outbreak the title of the largest in history. The virus has infected two American health workers in Liberia, infected more than 1,100, and killed 660. And just recently, a traveler on a flight that ended in Lagos, Nigeria carried the virus outside the region.
The patient, Patrick Sawyer, died soon after he was isolated, but officials believe this is the first time the virus has moved by jet, sparking fear and worry for regions staving off an outbreak.
But as with anything in life, there is good news and bad news. Here are some things you should know about the largest Ebola outbreak in history.
1. What is Ebola?
Ebola is an often fatal virus in humans and nonhuman primates that causes fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, weakness, vomiting and in some cases, internal and external bleeding. According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Ebola is just one of numerous Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers.
2. How Deadly Is The Virus?
There is no treatment or vaccine for Ebola, according to the World Health Organization. The fatality rate can be up to 90 percent, but it can also be as low as 50. This year’s outbreak currently has a mortality rate of 60 percent.
During an outbreak, those at higher risk of infection are health workers, family members and others in close contact with sick people and deceased patients.
3. Can It Spread To The U.S.?
The virus is just a plane ride away but according to the CDC, a U.S. outbreak is unlikely.
“Ebola poses little risk to the U.S. general population,” Stephan Monroe of CDC’s National Center for Emerging & Zoonotic Infectious Diseases told reporters in a conference call.
From Fox and the CDC:
“The likelihood of this spreading out of West Africa is very low,” Monroe said. While it’s possible someone ill could get on a plane, they couldn’t spread the virus to someone who just happened to be sitting nearby. “It is very unlikely they would be able to spread disease to their fellow passengers,” Monroe said. CDC worries more about airborne viruses such as measles, which can spread silently.
“People are not infectious prior to becoming symptomatic,” he stressed. And once in the U.S., doctors should isolate a patient quickly. “We are fairly confident that the standard of care in the U.S. would prevent much of the transmission of the virus were to show up here,” Monroe said.
“We do not anticipate this will spread in the US if an infected person is hospitalized here but we are taking action now by alerting healthcare workers in the US and reminding them how to isolate and test suspected patients while following strict infection control procedures.” CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden added in a statement.
4. How Is It Spread Anyway?
Ebola spreads through contact with body fluids from an infected person or contaminated objects from infected persons. Humans can also be exposed to the virus through infected animals.
Ebola is one disease that remains infectious after a person has died, and so experts urge precautions during funerals and burials. One study has suggested that a man’s sperm can transmit the virus two months after he has recovered from an infection. But most doctors say people are no longer infectious after they stop showing symptoms. The incubation period — the time between when a person encounters another infected person and beginning to show symptoms themselves — is as long as 21 days, according to the World Health Organization.
5. Will It Be Over Soon?
That’s not likely. According to the CDC and the WHO, this current outbreak could go on indefinitely.
No Ebola outbreak is declared over until nobody has been diagnosed for six weeks – or two 21-day infection periods.
“Until we get all of the virus put out, there is always the possibility that it will reignite.”
For more information on Ebola, visit CDC.gov
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