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Ebola Virus Infection FAQ

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Ebola Outbreak Unfolds in Africa continued...

Q. How does the virus spread?

A. Ebola isn’t as contagious as more common viruses, such as colds, influenza, or measles, Adalja says. It spreads to people by close contact with skin and bodily fluids from infected animals, such as fruit bats and monkeys. Then it spreads from person to person the same way.

“The key message is to minimize bodily fluid exposures,” Adalja says.

Q. What precautions should people take if they’re concerned they might come in contact with someone infected with Ebola?

A. “Ebola is very hard to catch,” Adalja emphasizes. Infected people are contagious only after symptoms appear, by which time close contacts, such as health care workers and family members, would use “universal precautions.” That's an infection control approach in which all blood and certain body fluids are treated as if they are infectious for diseases that can be borne in them, Adalja says.

Even though the virus can be transmitted by kissing or sex, people with Ebola symptoms are so sick that they’re not typically taking part in those behaviors, he says.

Q. Is there a cure or a vaccine to protect against it?

A. No, but scientists are working on both. The National Institutes of Health is taking part in human testing of an experimental Ebola vaccine, which began in early September. Testing for that vaccine is also taking place in the U.K. and Mali.

The agency expects to have results of that trial by the end of 2014. The NIH is also testing several other potential vaccines.

There is no specific treatment for Ebola. The only treatments available are supportive kinds, such as IV fluids and medications to level out blood pressure, a breathing machine, and transfusions, Adalja says.

ZMapp was given to Brantly and Writebol, among others. But health officials don't know if it aided in their recovery. A trial of ZMapp in 18 Ebola-infected rhesus monkeys prompted recovery in all 18, researchers reported.

Sacra received a different treatment, called TKM-Ebola. He also received a blood transfusion from Brantly, a friend. Health officials don't know if any of these treatments helped with his recovery.

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