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Ebola Virus Infection

Ebola is a rare but deadly virus that causes bleeding inside and outside the body.

As the virus spreads through the body, it damages the immune system and organs. Ultimately, it causes levels of blood-clotting cells to drop. This leads to severe, uncontrollable bleeding.

The disease, also known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever or Ebola virus, kills up to 90% of people who are infected.

How Do You Get Ebola?

Ebola isn’t as contagious as more common viruses like colds, influenza, or measles. It spreads to people by contact with the skin or bodily fluids of an infected animal, like a monkey, chimp, or fruit bat. Then it moves from person to person the same way. Those who care for a sick person or bury someone who has died from the disease often get it.

Other ways to get Ebola include touching contaminated needles or surfaces.

You can’t get Ebola from air, water, or food. A person who has Ebola but has no symptoms can’t spread the disease, either.

What Are the Symptoms of Ebola?

Early on, Ebola can feel like the flu or other illnesses. Symptoms show up 2 to 21 days after infection and usually include:

  • High fever
  • Headache
  • Joint and muscle aches
  • Sore throat
  • Weakness
  • Stomach pain
  • Lack of appetite

As the disease gets worse, it causes bleeding inside the body, as well as from the eyes, ears, and nose.  Some people will vomit or cough up blood, have bloody diarrhea, and get a rash.

How Is Ebola Diagnosed?

Sometimes it's hard to tell if a person has Ebola from the symptoms alone. Doctors may test to rule out other diseases like cholera or malaria.

Tests of blood and tissues also can diagnose Ebola.

If you have Ebola, you’ll be isolated from the public immediately to prevent the spread.

How Is Ebola Treated?

There’s no cure for Ebola, though researchers are working on it. Treatment includes an experimental serum that destroys infected cells.

Doctors manage the symptoms of Ebola with:

  • Fluids and electrolytes
  • Oxygen
  • Blood pressure medication
  • Blood transfusions
  • Treatment for other infections

How Can You Prevent Ebola?

There’s no vaccine to prevent Ebola. The best way to avoid catching the disease is by not traveling to areas where the virus is found.

Health care workers can prevent infection by wearing masks, gloves, and goggles whenever they come into contact with people who may have Ebola.

Ebola Facts

There are five types of Ebola virus. Four of them cause the disease in humans.

The Ebola virus first appeared during two 1976 outbreaks in Africa.

Ebola gets its name from the Ebola River, which is near one of the villages in the Democratic Republic of Congo where the disease first appeared.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on August 05, 2014
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