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FAQ: The Deadly Ebola Virus

By Rita Rubin
WebMD Health News

Editor's note: This story was updated on Oct. 22, 2014, with latest case numbers, the 21-day waiting period expiring for dozens of people who had contact with a Liberian man in Dallas, the discharge of an Ebola patient from Emory University Hospital, and health officials declaring a journalist free of the virus.

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.

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Two nurses at a Dallas hospital have caught the virus. Media reports say they are Nina Pham, 26, and Amber Vinson, 29. Both work at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital and helped treat Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian man who died there on Oct. 8. 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. 

Vinson was moved from Dallas to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta on Oct. 15. Pham was moved Oct. 16 to the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, MD, the NIH said in a statement.

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.

Health officials said Duncan went to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital the evening of Sept. 25 complaining of fever and abdominal pain. He was given antibiotics and allowed to go home, despite telling a nurse that he’d recently arrived from West Africa. He returned to the hospital by ambulance on Sept. 28 and was placed in isolation. Officials announced on Sept. 30 he had Ebola.  

“In our initial treatment of Mr. Duncan, despite our best intentions and a highly skilled medical team, we made mistakes,” Daniel Varga, MD, chief clinical officer for Texas Health Services, told the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee in written testimony.

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.

Five Americans infected with the virus in Africa have been brought back to the U.S. for treatment in isolation units at Nebraska and Georgia hospitals. They include aid workers Rick Sacra, MD; Kent Brantly, MD; and Nancy Writebol; and journalist Ashoka Mukpo. All were released from hospitals after recovering.

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