Ebola, previously known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, is a rare and deadly disease caused by infection with one of the Ebola virus strains. Ebola can cause disease in humans and nonhuman primates (monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees).
Ebola viruses are found in several African countries. It was first discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since then, outbreaks have appeared sporadically in Africa.
The natural reservoir host of Ebola virus remains unknown. However, on the basis of evidence and the nature of similar viruses, researchers believe that the virus is animal-borne and that bats are the most likely reservoir.
The 2014 Ebola epidemic is the largest in history and is currently affecting three countries in West Africa. In the United States, a handful of cases have been reported, three of which originated in West Africa and two that are linked to a case that originated there.
Ebola in the U.S.
Several U.S. citizens contracted Ebola and became symptomatic while in Africa and were transported back to the US for care; one individual died and the rest have recovered and are now Ebola free. These patients were transported with appropriate infection control procedures to prevent the disease from being transmitted to others.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) follows up with persons who had contact with these cases prior to, and during, hospitalization. With these follow-up measures, disease containment was successful and proves that wider spread in a community can be prevented with proper public health measures including ongoing contact tracing, health monitoring among those known to have been in contact with the original patient and immediate isolation if symptoms develop.
- Fever (greater than 38°C or 100.4°F)
- Severe headache
- Muscle pain
- Abdominal (stomach) pain
- Unexplained hemorrhage (bleeding or bruising)
Symptoms may appear anywhere from 2 to 21 days after exposure to Ebola, but the average is 8 to 10 days.
Recovery from Ebola depends on the patient’s immune response. Once someone recovers from Ebola, they can no longer spread the virus. However, Ebola virus has been found in semen for up to three months. People who recover from Ebola are advised to abstain from sex or use condoms for three months.
People who recover from Ebola infection develop antibodies that last for at least 10 years.
When an infection occurs in humans, the virus can be spread in several ways to others. Ebola is spread through direct contact (via broken skin or mucous membranes) with
- blood or body fluids (including but not limited to urine, saliva, feces, vomit, and semen) of a person who is sick with Ebola
- objects (like needles and syringes) that have been contaminated with the virus
- infected animals (by contact with blood or infected meat from wild primates or bats – this has only occurred in Africa)
Ebola is NOT spread through the air or by water, or in general, food (except sometimes where people eat bushmeat–wild animals, such as bats).
Risk of Exposure
Ebola is not spread through casual contact; therefore, the risk of an outbreak in the US is very low. Health care providers caring for Ebola patients, and family and friends in close contact with Ebola patients, are at the highest risk of getting sick because they may come in contact with infected blood or body fluids of sick patients.
However, Ebola still poses NO substantial risk to the general U.S. population. Health officials recognize that Ebola causes a lot of public worry and concern, but it is the mission of U.S. public health agencies to protect the health of all Americans, including those who may become ill while overseas.
There is no FDA-approved vaccine available for Ebola.
CDC implemented enhanced entry screening at five U.S. airports that now receive 100% of travelers from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Spokane International Airport is not one of these U.S. airports, but the airport does have protocols and procedures in place for if a plane were to be diverted to Spokane County with a potentially-ill passenger on board.
CDC also issued a Warning, Level 3 travel notice for U.S. citizens to avoid nonessential travel to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. For travel notices and other information for travelers, visit the Travelers’ Health Ebola web page.
If you travel to or are in an area affected by an Ebola outbreak, make sure to do the following:
- Practice careful hygiene. Avoid contact with blood and body fluids.
- Do not handle items that may have come in contact with an infected person’s blood or body fluids.
- Avoid funeral or burial rituals that require handling the body of someone who has died from Ebola.
- Avoid contact with bats and nonhuman primates or blood, fluids, and raw meat prepared from these animals.
- Avoid hospitals where Ebola patients are being treated. The U.S. embassy or consulate is often able to provide advice on facilities.
- After you return, monitor your health for 21 days and seek medical care immediately if you develop symptoms of Ebola.
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. If an ill traveler landed in Spokane County, Spokane Regional Health District would work with CDC and other partners (including the Grant County Health District) to 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, the airline, federal partners, and the state health department to notify them and take any necessary public health action.
What do I do if I’m returning to the U.S. from the area where the outbreak is occurring?
- Contact Grant County Health District, (509) 766-7960, for information about monitoring, especially if you:
- were in an area with an Ebola outbreak, particularly if you were in contact with blood or body fluids or items that have come in contact with blood or body fluids.
- visited a hospital or clinic where Ebola patients were being treated or you participated in burial rituals/practices.
- had contact with wild animals or raw meat.
- Seek medical care immediately if you develop a fever (temperature of 100.4°F/ 38.0°C) and any of the following symptoms: headache, muscle pain, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, or unexplained bruising or bleeding.
- Tell your doctor about your recent travel and your symptoms before you go to the office or emergency room. Advance notice will help your doctor care for you and protect other people who may be in the same medical setting.