The following questions and answers were provided by the World Health Organization.
Q. How do people become infected with the virus?
In the current outbreak in West Africa, the majority of cases in humans have occurred as a result of human‐to‐human transmission.
Infection occurs from direct contact through broken skin or mucous membranes with the blood, or other bodily fluids or secretions (stool, urine, saliva, semen) of infected people. Infection can also occur if broken skin or mucous membranes of a healthy person come into contact with environments that have become contaminated with an Ebola patient’s infectious fluids such as soiled clothing, bed linen, or used needles.
More than 100 health‐care workers have been exposed to the virus while caring for Ebola patients. This happens because they may not have been wearing personal protection equipment or were not properly applying infection prevention and control measures when caring for the patients. Health‐ care providers at all levels of the health system – hospitals, clinics, and health posts – should be briefed on the nature of the disease and how it is transmitted, and strictly follow recommended infection control precautions.
Q. What are typical signs and symptoms of infection?
Sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat are typical signs and symptoms. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding.
Laboratory findings include low white blood cell and platelet counts, and elevated liver enzymes.
The incubation period, or the time interval from infection to onset of symptoms, is from 2 to 21 days. The patient becomes contagious once they begin to show symptoms. They are not contagious during the incubation period.
Ebola virus disease infections can only be confirmed through laboratory testing.
Q. When should someone seek medical care?
If a person has been in an area known to have Ebola virus disease or in contact with a person known or suspected to have Ebola and they begin to have symptoms, they should seek medical care immediately.
Any cases of persons who are suspected to have the disease should be reported to the nearest health unit without delay. Prompt medical care is essential to improving the rate of survival from the disease. It is also important to control spread of the disease and infection control procedures need to be started immediately.
Q. What is the treatment?
Severely ill patients require intensive supportive care. They are frequently dehydrated and need intravenous fluids or oral rehydration with solutions that contain electrolytes. There is currently no specific treatment to cure the disease.
Some patients will recover with the appropriate medical care.
To help control further spread of the virus, people that are suspected or confirmed to have the disease should be isolated from other patients and treated by health workers using strict infection control precautions.
Q. What can I do? Can it be prevented? Is there a vaccine?
Currently, there is no licensed medicine or vaccine for Ebola virus disease, but several products are under development.
Ways to prevent infection and transmission
While initial cases of Ebola virus disease are contracted by handling infected animals or carcasses, secondary cases occur by direct contact with the bodily fluids of an ill person, either through unsafe case management or unsafe burial practices. During this outbreak, most of the disease has spread through human‐to‐human transmission. Several steps can be taken to help in preventing infection and limiting or stopping transmission.
- Understand the nature of the disease, how it is transmitted, and how to prevent it from spreading further. (For additional information, please see the previous questions about Ebola virus disease in this FAQ.)
- Listen to and follow directives issued by your country’s respective Ministry of Health.
- If you suspect someone close to you or in your community of having Ebola virus disease, immediately encourage and support them in seeking appropriate medical treatment in a health‐ care facility.
- If you choose to care for an ill person in your home, notify public health officials of your intentions so they can train you and provide appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) (gloves, impermeable gown, boots/closed shoes with overshoes, mask and eye protection for splashes), as well as instructions as a reminder on how to properly care for the patient, protect yourself and your family, and properly dispose of the PPE after use. N.B. WHO does not recommend home care and strongly advises individuals and their family members to seek professional care in a treatment center.
- When visiting patients in the hospital or caring for someone at home, hand washing with soap and water is recommended after touching a patient, being in contact with their bodily fluids, or touching his/her surroundings.
- People who have died from Ebola should only be handled using appropriate protective equipment and should be buried immediately by public health professionals who are trained in safe burial procedures.
Additionally, individuals should reduce contact with high‐risk infected animals (i.e. fruit bats, monkeys, or apes) in the affected rainforest areas. If you suspect an animal is infected, do not handle it. Animal products (blood and meat) should be thoroughly cooked before eating.
Q. Is protective equipment required when caring for these patients?
- In addition to standard health‐care precautions, health‐care workers should strictly apply recommended infection control measures to avoid exposure to infected blood, fluids, or contaminated environments or objects – such as a patient’s soiled linen or used needles.
- All visitors and health‐care workers should rigorously use what is known as personal protective equipment (PPE). PPE should include at least: gloves, an impermeable gown, boots/closed shoes with overshoes, a mask, and eye protection for splashes (goggles or face shields).
Q. Is hand hygiene important?
Hand hygiene is essential and should be performed:
- before donning gloves and wearing PPE on entry to the isolation room/area;
- before any clean or aseptic procedures is being performed on a patient;
- after any exposure risk or actual exposure with a patient’s blood or body fluids;
- after touching (even potentially) contaminated surfaces, items, or equipment in the patient’s surroundings; and
- after removal of PPE, upon leaving the isolation area.
It is important to note that neglecting to perform hand hygiene after removing PPE will reduce or negate any benefits of the PPE. Either an alcohol‐based hand rub or soap and running water can be used for hand hygiene, applying the correct technique recommended by WHO. It is important to always perform hand hygiene with soap and running water when hands are visibly soiled. Alcohol‐based hand rubs should be made available at every point of care (at the entrance and within the isolation rooms and areas); running water, soap, and single use towels should also be always available.
The following questions and answers were provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Q. How do I protect myself against Ebola?
If you must travel to an area affected by the 2014 Ebola outbreak, protect yourself by doing the following:
- Wash hands frequently or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid contact with blood and body fluids of any person, particularly someone who is sick.
- Do not handle items that may have come in contact with an infected person’s blood or body fluids.
- Do not touch the body of someone who has died from Ebola.
- Do not touch bats and nonhuman primates or their blood and fluids and do not touch or eat raw meat prepared from these animals.
- Avoid hospitals in West Africa where Ebola patients are being treated. The U.S. Embassy or consulate is often able to provide advice on medical facilities.
- Seek medical care immediately if you develop fever (temperature of 101.5°F/ 38.6°C) and any of the other following symptoms: headache, muscle pain, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, or unexplained bruising or bleeding.
- Limit your contact with other people until and when you go to the doctor. Do not travel anywhere else besides a healthcare facility.
CDC has issued a Warning, Level 3 travel notice for three countries. U.S. citizens should avoid all nonessential travel to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. CDC has issued an Alert, Level 2 travel notice for Nigeria. Travelers to Nigeria should take enhanced precautions to prevent Ebola. CDC has also issued an Alert, Level 2 travel notice for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). A small number of Ebola cases have been reported in the DRC, though current information indicates that this outbreak is not related to the ongoing Ebola outbreaks in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. For travel notices and other information for travelers, visit the Travelers’ Health Ebola web page.
Q. Can hospitals in the United States care for an Ebola patient?
Any U.S. hospital that is following CDC’s infection control recommendations and can isolate a patient in their own room with a private bathroom is capable of safely managing a patient with Ebola.
Q. What is being done to prevent ill travelers in West Africa from getting on a plane?
In West Africa
CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine (DGMQ) is working with airlines, airports, and ministries of health to provide technical assistance for the development of exit screening and travel restrictions in the affected areas. This includes:
- Assessing the ability of Ebola-affected countries and airports to conduct exit screening,
- Assisting with development of exit screening protocols,
- Training staff on exit screening protocols and appropriate PPE use, and
- Training in-country staff to provide future trainings.
CDC works with international public health organizations, other federal agencies, and the travel industry to identify sick travelers arriving in the United States and take public health actions to prevent the spread of communicable diseases. Airlines are required to report any deaths onboard or ill travelers meeting certain criteria to CDC before arriving into the United States, and CDC and its partners determine whether any public health action is needed. If a traveler is infectious or exhibiting symptoms during or after a flight, CDC will conduct an investigation of exposed travelers and work with the airline, federal partners, and state and local health departments to notify them and take any necessary public health action. When CDC receives a report of an ill traveler on a cruise or cargo ship, CDC officials work with the shipping line to make an assessment of public health risk and to coordinate any necessary response.
In the United States
CDC has staff working 24/7 at 20 Border Health field offices located in international airports and land borders. CDC staff are ready 24/7 to investigate cases of ill travelers on planes and ships entering the United States.
CDC works with partners at all ports of entry into the United States to help prevent infectious diseases from being introduced and spread in the United States. CDC works with Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, state and local health departments, and local Emergency Medical Services staff.
Relatively few of the approximately 350 million travelers who enter the United States each year come from these countries. Secondly, most people who become infected with Ebola are those who live with or care for people who have already caught the disease and are showing symptoms. CDC and healthcare providers in the United States are prepared for the remote possibility that a traveler could get Ebola and return to the U.S. while sick.
Q. Why were the ill Americans with Ebola brought to the U.S. for treatment? How is CDC protecting the American public?
A U.S. citizen has the right to return to the United States. Although CDC can use several measures to prevent disease from being introduced in the United States, CDC must balance the public health risk to others with the rights of the individual. In this situation, the patients who came back to the United States for care were transported with appropriate infection control procedures in place to prevent the disease from being transmitted to others.
Ebola poses no substantial risk to the U.S. general population. CDC recognizes that Ebola causes a lot of public worry and concern, but CDC’s mission is to protect the health of all Americans, including those who may become ill while overseas. Ebola patients can be transported and managed safely when appropriate precautions are used.
Q. Are there any cases of people contracting Ebola in the U.S.?
CDC confirmed on September 30, 2014, the first travel-associated case of Ebola to be diagnosed in the United States. The person traveled from West Africa to Dallas, Texas, and later sought medical care at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas after developing symptoms consistent with Ebola. The medical facility has isolated the patient. Based on the person’s travel history and symptoms, CDC recommended testing for Ebola.
CDC recognizes that even a single case of Ebola diagnosed in the United States raises concerns. Knowing the possibility exists, medical and public health professionals across the country have been preparing to respond. CDC and public health officials in Texas are taking precautions to identify people who have had close personal contact with the ill person and health care professionals have been reminded to use meticulous infection control at all times.
Q. Is there a danger of Ebola spreading in the U.S.?
Ebola is not spread through casual contact; therefore, the risk of an outbreak in the U.S. is very low. We know how to stop Ebola’s further spread: thorough case finding, isolation of ill people, contacting people exposed to the ill person, and further isolation of contacts if they develop symptoms. The U.S. public health and medical systems have had prior experience with sporadic cases of diseases such as Ebola. In the past decade, the United States had 5 imported cases of Viral Hemorrhagic Fever (VHF) diseases similar to Ebola (1 Marburg, 4 Lassa). None resulted in any transmission in the United States.