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FAQ: The Deadly Ebola Virus

By Rita Rubin
WebMD Health News

Editor's note: This story was updated on Oct. 24, 2014, with an American doctor diagnosed with Ebola in New York, nurse Nina Pham to be released from the hospital, and updates on Mali, Nigeria, and Senegal.

April 4, 2014 -- Perhaps no virus strikes as much fear in people as Ebola, the cause of a deadly outbreak in West Africa.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports more than 9,900 confirmed or suspected cases of Ebola, mostly in the countries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, as of Oct. 19. More than 4,800 people have died in the largest Ebola outbreak ever recorded.  A case of Ebola has also been diagnosed in the country of Mali, according to media reports. The WHO announced earlier in October that outbreaks in Senegal and Nigeria had ended.

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Meanwhile, a Doctors Without Borders physician who recently returned to the U.S. from Guinea, where he was treating Ebola patients, is the latest person in the U.S. to be diagnosed with Ebola.

Dr. Craig Spencer returned to New York on Oct. 17. He was taken to Bellevue Hospital on Oct. 23 after reporting a fever and vomiting. Health officials were looking into who he might've had contact with. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said four people who may have had close contact with Spencer, including his fiancée, have been quarantined.

Two nurses at a Dallas hospital also caught Ebola after treating Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian man who later died. The nurses, Nina Pham, 26, and Amber Vinson, 29, both work at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. Duncan arrived in the U.S. on Sept. 20 to visit relatives and 10 days later became the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S. He died Oct. 8.

Pham, who was moved from Dallas to the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, MD, on Oct. 16, “is now virus-free” and will be released, the NIH said Oct. 24.

Vinson was moved from Dallas to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta on Oct. 15. 

Those who had contact with Pham or Vinson were being watched. Also, Vinson flew from Cleveland to Dallas the day before she was admitted to a hospital. Passengers on that flight were being asked to contact the CDC.

“We have to rethink the way we address Ebola infection control, because even a single infection is unacceptable,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD.

As of Oct. 20, dozens of people who were being monitored after having contact with Duncan are no longer in danger of catching Ebola, officials said.

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