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FAQ: The Deadly Ebola Virus

By Rita Rubin
WebMD Health News

Editor's note: This story was updated on Oct. 16, 2014, with latest case numbers, a second nurse in Dallas infected, and other updates.

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 nearly 8,400 confirmed or suspected cases of Ebola in the countries of Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sierra Leone as of Oct. 8. More than 4,000 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 will be admitted 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, in a news conference on Monday.

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 who was using the hospital's Ebola checklist 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 Thursday.

Health officials are watching those who had contact with Duncan in the time between the onset of his symptoms and his return to the hospital. 

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. All three were released from hospitals after recovering.

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