Skip to content

A Visual Guide to Ebola

What is Ebola?

Ebola is a deadly disease caused by a virus. There are five strains, and four of them can make people sick. After entering the body, it kills cells, making some of them explode. It wrecks the immune system, causes heavy bleeding inside the body, and damages almost every organ. 

The virus is scary, but it’s also rare. You can get it only from direct contact with an infected person’s body fluids.

 

How do you get it?

You get Ebola from a person who has the virus, and only while he or she has symptoms. People pass it to others through their body fluids. Blood, stool, and vomit are the most infectious, but semen, urine, sweat, tears, and breast milk also carry it.

To get Ebola, you’d have to get these fluids in your mouth, nose, eyes, genitals, or a break in your skin. You could also pick it up from items that have fluids on them, like needles or sheets.

How You Won’t Get Ebola

You can’t get Ebola from casual contact, like sitting next to an infected person. Air, food, and water don’t carry the virus. But kissing or sharing food or a drink with someone who has Ebola could be a risk, since you might get his saliva in your mouth.

What are the symptoms?

It can take from 2 to 21 days, but usually 8 to 10 days, after infection for signs of Ebola to appear. Symptoms can seem like the flu at first -- sudden fever, feeling tired, muscle pains, headache, and sore throat.

As the disease gets worse, it causes vomiting, diarrhea, rash, and bruising or bleeding without an injury, like from the eyes or gums.

Where is Ebola?

There have been 33 Ebola outbreaks since 1976, but the 2014 outbreak in West Africa is by far the largest. The virus has infected thousands of people and killed more than half of them. It started in Guinea and spread to Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Nigeria. A man who traveled to the U.S. from Africa died of Ebola in October. A nurse who helped treat him came down with Ebola. 

Is There a Vaccine for Ebola?

There is no approved medicine or vaccine to treat or prevent Ebola. Scientists have tested some drugs on animals, which seemed to work. But they haven’t studied how the medications affect humans. Researchers are also studying two new vaccines that could prevent Ebola, but they still need to test them in more people to see if they’re safe and if they work.

Treatment

Since there aren’t any drugs to fight the virus, health care teams treat the person’s symptoms and offer basic support care. They:

  • Keep the person hydrated with fluids through an IV.
  • Give oxygen.
  • Maintain their blood pressure.
  • Treat any other infections they have.

A person’s survival depends on how well his immune system works. The sooner he gets medical care, the better the chances he’ll recover.

After Ebola

Ebola survivors have certain proteins, called antibodies, in their blood that may protect them from the same strain of the virus for 10 years or more. But no one knows if they can get sick from the other strains.

It’s rare, but the Ebola virus can stay in semen for 3 months after a man recovers, so he should avoid sex or use a condom to keep from infecting others. The virus can stay in breast milk for 2 weeks after recovery, so women shouldn’t breastfeed during that time.

 

How Can I Prevent It?

The best way to avoid Ebola is to stay away from areas where the virus is common. If you are in an outbreak area:

  • Avoid infected people, their body fluids, and the bodies of anyone who has died from the disease.
  • Avoid contact with wild animals, like bats and monkeys, and their meat.
  • Wash your hands often.

After you leave the area, watch for changes in your health for 21 days, and get medical help right away if you have any symptoms. 

Controlling an Outbreak

Trained public health workers find every person who might have had contact with an infected person. They watch each of those people for 21 days. If someone shows signs of Ebola, health care teams test them, treat them, and keep them away from others. Then the workers track down everyone that person came in contact with as well. The goal is to stop Ebola from spreading further.

Ebola Virus Infection FAQ

Font Size
A
A
A

continued...

Both Pham and Vinson recovered from the virus and have been released from hospitals. No one who had contact with them, including people on flights Vinson took from Cleveland to Dallas and back before being admitted to a hospital, caught Ebola.

In total, five Americans infected with the virus in Africa have been brought back to the U.S. for treatment. All have recovered. The five include aid workers Sacra, Kent Brantly, MD, and Nancy Writebol.

The fourth person was flown back to the U.S. on Sept. 9 for treatment at Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital, where Brantly and Writebol were also treated. This person's arrival came after the WHO said one of its doctors was being evacuated from Sierra Leone after getting Ebola. The man was released from the hospital Oct. 19. He wants  to remain anonymous, the hospital said.

Mukpo, a freelance cameraman for NBC News, was flown to Omaha on Oct. 6. He was part of a crew covering the outbreak in West Africa. He was released Oct. 22.

Ebola Outbreak Unfolds in Africa

On Aug. 8, the WHO declared the Ebola outbreak in West Africa to be a “public health emergency of international concern.” It said “a coordinated international response is deemed essential to stop and reverse the international spread” of the virus. 

On Sept. 16, President Barack Obama announced a plan to scale up the nation’s response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa. Responding to a plea for help from the Liberian government, Obama said the Department of Defense will send personnel there to boost the international response to the outbreak. The U.S. will also build 17 100-bed units to treat Ebola patients.

Ebola was first identified in 1976, when it appeared in outbreaks in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is named for the Ebola River, which runs near the Congolese village where one of the first outbreaks happened.

WebMD asked Amesh Adalja, MD, about the virus and efforts to contain it. Adalja is an infectious disease doctor at the University of Pittsburgh.

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on October 06, 2014

Sources: Sources

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information: Disclaimer

© 2014 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.