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FAQ: The Deadly Ebola Virus

Ebola: Frequently Asked Questions

In fall 2014, President Barack Obama announced a plan to scale up the nation’s response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa. The Department of Defense sent personnel to Liberia to boost the international response and also planned to build 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.

Q. How deadly is Ebola?

A. The Ebola strain in the current outbreak is the most lethal of the five known strains of the virus. It is called Ebola Zaire and usually kills up to 9 out of 10 infected people. But the high death rate might be due to a lack of modern medical care, Adalja says. “It’s hard to say exactly what the [death] rate would be in a modern hospital with all of its intensive care units.”

The CDC said in July the Ebola death rate in the West African outbreak is about 6 in 10, rather than 9 in 10. That shows that early treatment efforts have been effective, says Stephan Monroe, deputy director of the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases at the CDC.

On July 31, 2014, the CDC issued a travel advisory recommending against non-essential travel to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

Q. What are the symptoms?

A. At first, the symptoms are like a bad case of the fluhigh fever, muscle aches, headache, sore throat, and weakness. They are followed quickly by vomitingdiarrhea, and internal and external bleeding, which can spread the virus. The kidneys and liver begin to fail.

Ebola Zaire kills people quickly, typically 7 to 14 days after symptoms appear, Adalja says.

A person can have the virus but not show any symptoms for as long as 3 weeks, he says. People who survive can still have the virus in their system for weeks afterward.

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