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FAQ: The Deadly Ebola Virus

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“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, and human testing of an experimental Ebola vaccine began in early September.

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 respirator, and transfusions, Adalja says.

An experimental treatment called ZMapp was given to Brantly and Writebol, among others. But health officials do not know if ZMapp aided in their recovery. A trial of ZMapp in 18 Ebola-infected rhesus monkeys prompted recovery in all 18, researchers reported.

Health officials said Sacra has also received an experimental drug, but did not name it.

Q. Why do some people survive the virus?

A. That’s hard to say. Adalja thinks several things might play a role, such as a person's age and genetic makeup, and whether they have other medical conditions. Those aren't proven reasons, though.

Q. How can the outbreak be stopped?

A. Simple steps to control infection, such as gowns, gloves, and eye protection, can help halt the spread of Ebola, Adalja says. Public health officials will have to wait 6 weeks after the last case is reported before declaring the outbreak over, he says.

Keys to stopping Ebola include identifying patients; providing treatment, preventing the spread, and protecting health care workers, including following patients’ contacts and monitoring them for symptoms; and preventing future cases through education and urging people to avoid close contact with sick people or bodies, CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, has said.

But, he said, turning the tide in Western Africa is “not going to be quick or easy. Even in a best-case scenario, it would take 3 to 6 months or more.”

Q. Could an Ebola outbreak happen in the United States?

Since the virus was first identified, all of the outbreaks in people have happened in Africa. It's possible that an infected person who appeared to be healthy could board a plane in Africa and fly to the U.S., Adalja says. But “it’s not something that we’ve ever seen before.” The outbreaks generally have happened in poor, isolated communities, so those infected didn’t have the resources to travel far.

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