Everything You Need To Know About Ebola Right Now

Photo: Rex (liver cells infected with Ebola virus).
According to the CDC, there are about 8,900 cases of Ebola infection worldwide with almost 4,500 deaths as of this week. And, the World Health Organization announced on Monday that we may see 10,000 new cases per week by December. Yes, that headline-making virus has now also made its way to the U.S. But, no, you will still probably not get it. Here's what we know, and what you need to know about today's Ebola situation.
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What the heck happened in Dallas? Basically, Thomas Eric Duncan contracted the virus while in West Africa. He then flew on a commercial flight to visit family in the States in late September. On the 26th, he went to Texas Presbyterian Health Hospital with a fever and was sent home with Tylenol and antibiotics. Two days later, Duncan went back to the hospital, and on the 29th he was confirmed to be the first person diagnosed with Ebola on U.S. soil. He died on October 8th. He is one of three confirmed Ebola cases to be diagnosed in the U.S. The other two are nurses who were treating Duncan at the hospital. The first was Nina Pham, who is reportedly in "good condition." The second, Amber Vinson, took a commercial airline flight back from Cleveland the day before developing a severe fever. While we don't know if she was contagious on the flight, the CDC says she had a low-grade fever before boarding and it is in the processes of reaching out to other passengers on the flight.
How bad is it elsewhere? In West Africa, pretty bad. Lack of resources and a slow global response has let the virus run wild. Over at Nature, they used WHO data to illustrate just how terrifying it's getting. For an on-the-ground perspective, see what Karin Huster, a healthcare worker who just got back from treating Ebola in Liberia's clinics, told R29. We're also beginning to feel the first economic effects of the crisis.
What is the CDC doing to stop the spread of Ebola? Well, the first thing to remember is that the U.S. is not in the middle of the same kind of outbreak those in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia have been dealing with for months now. Ebola has not spread to the general American population, and those who have contracted the virus here have been in close contact with someone who was already severely infected. Complicating matters, the nurses who cared for Duncan report that they were forced to do so without proper training or equipment. And, Vinson says that she called the CDC before getting on her flight with a low-grade fever, but was told her temperature did not surpass the dangerous threshold (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit). However, the CDC has learned from its slow response to Dallas and has vowed to dispatch an Ebola response team to any hospital in the country with a confirmed case of the disease.
Photo: Rex (liver cells infected with Ebola virus).
How contagious is Ebola? Compared to other diseases you are more likely to get (such as enterovirus D68, the measles, and the flu), Ebola is not very contagious. It has a long incubation period (21 days) during which an infected person may begin to show symptoms. But, as far as we know, that person is not contagious until he or she is symptomatic. Ebola can only be spread by: direct contact with the bodily fluids of someone who is contagious (e.g., blood, urine, vomit); objects that have been contaminated with those fluids; or infected mammals, such as bats.
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Are we absolutely sure it's not airborne? Pretty much. Some of these fears can be traced to a 2012 paper in which researchers found that one strain of Ebola in pigs could be transmitted to macaque monkeys housed in separate cages. But, this effect has only been shown in animals. Although some scientists have suggested that the virus may have mutated into a more contagious (i.e. airborne) form, this has not been confirmed and remains extremely unlikely. Plenty of other scientists have proclaimed their disagreement.
What are the symptoms of Ebola? Fever, headache, muscle pain, severe vomiting, and bloody diarrhea, among other unpleasant things. These symptoms hit hard and and they hit fast. They also get worse the longer you're infected. So, if you feel kind of icky but are still dragging yourself to work, you're probably Ebola-free.
Can we treat it? Not in every case. We have several experimental options, such as ZMapp, that have worked for some human cases or in animals. But, American scientists are still working on a cure that can save as many people as possible — and get approved by the FDA, too. Chinese and Russian scientists are on the case too, reportedly working on a cure and vaccine, respectively. But, Ebola is not necessarily a death sentence. About half of the people who have contracted it worldwide have lived to tell the tale. The CDC says whether or not you survive depends on your immune system and the quality of care you're getting. And, when a person recovers from the virus, he or she will have antibodies that will protect against Ebola infection for at least 10 years.
Can we protect against it? Yes — with proper hand hygiene, basic public health tactics, a vaccine on the way, and a ramped-up CDC response.
Finally, it's worth repeating that unless you have had direct contact with the bodily fluids of someone with Ebola when that person was contagious (or if you've eaten some bushmeat recently), then you don't need to worry about getting it. Really, even Fox News says so. Instead, you should probably just get yourself a flu shot.
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