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FAQ: The Deadly Ebola Virus

By Rita Rubin
WebMD Health News

Editor's note: This story was updated on Sept. 2, 2014.

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 reports more than 3,000 confirmed or suspected cases of Ebola in the countries of Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone as of Aug. 26. More than 1,500 people have died in the largest Ebola outbreak ever recorded.

The WHO also confirmed a case of Ebola in Senegal on Aug. 30. The case is in a man from Guinea who was visiting Senegal.

On Aug. 8, the WHO declared the Ebola outbreak in West Africa to be a “public health emergency of international concern.” It said “a coordinated international response is deemed essential to stop and reverse the international spread” of the virus.

A third American, a doctor with the Christian mission organization SIM, has been infected with the virus, SIM said in a statement Sept. 2. The doctor, who was not identified, was treating obstetrics patients at SIM’s ELWA hospital in Monrovia, a separate facility from the ELWA hospital’s Ebola isolation ward. It is not yet known how he got the virus, SIM said.

“Upon onset of the symptoms, the doctor immediately isolated himself and has since been transferred to the ELWA Ebola isolation unit,” the SIM statement said. “The doctor is doing well and is in good spirits.”

Previously, Americans Kent Brantly, MD, and Nancy Writebol were infected with Ebola. Brantly was working in Liberia with the relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, and Writebol, a SIM missionary, was in Liberia on a joint team with Brantly.

They were both brought back to the United States and treated in a special isolation unit at Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital.  

Brantly was released from the hospital Aug. 21. “Today is a miraculous day. I’m thrilled to be alive, to be well, and to be reunited with my family,” he said.

Writebol was released from Emory on Aug. 19, SIM said in a statement Aug. 21. 

“After a rigorous course of treatment and testing, the Emory Healthcare team has determined that both patients have recovered from the Ebola virus and can return to their families and community without concern for spreading this infection to others,” said Bruce Ribner, MD, director of Emory’s Infectious Disease Unit.


 Ebola Coverage on WebMD

FAQ: The Deadly Ebola Virus

Video: How Ebola Kills

Ebola: How Infectious is It?

Video: CDC on How to Contain Ebola

Experimental Ebola Serum

Ebola: Are Treatments, Vaccines on the Horizon?



In an Aug. 15 statement, Brantly wrote: “Thank you for your prayers for Nancy and me. Please continue to pray for and bring attention to those suffering in the ongoing Ebola crisis in West Africa.”

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