What you should know about Ebola

By Misty Williams / The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Q. Where did Ebola come from?

A. The virus first appeared in 1976 in two outbreaks, one in a village near the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Fruit bats are considered the likely host of the virus. Infection occurs among several animals, particularly primates. In its most virulent form, it may kill 90 percent of those it infects. The current outbreak’s death rate is about 60 percent.

Q. Why are Emory University Hospital and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying that bringing in Ebola patients does not pose a risk to the public?

A. Unlike flu, Ebola is not an airborne virus that you contract just by breathing. Infection occurs from contact with the blood, secretions or other bodily fluids of infected people or animals. In addition, the aircraft and ambulance used to transport the patients are specially designed to contain the virus, and the unit at Emory University Hospital was built and equipped for Level 4 containment. Officials say those precautions are more than adequate to keep the virus from infecting people here.

Q. Has this happened before in the United States?

A. No. But Ebola is just one type of hemorrhagic fever. Over the past decade, there have been five instances of people in the U.S. diagnosed with two types of hemorrhagic fever known as Marburg and Lassa. Those patients were treated without any spread of the disease.

Q. What is hemorrhagic fever?

A. Viral hemorrhagic fevers can damage multiple parts of the body, including the vascular system and the body’s ability to regulate itself. Symptoms can include bleeding under the skin, in internal organs and from body orifices. Severely ill patients may also fall into a coma.

Q. What is the CDC doing about the outbreak in Africa?

A. The CDC is sending more disease-control experts to the affected West African countries over the next 30 days. The agency is also helping the airports in those countries to screen outbound passengers.

Q. Why is this outbreak so bad?

A. It is occurring in countries that haven’t seen this disease before. CDC workers must essentially start from scratch in getting health systems in those countries up to speed on the disease and how to treat it.

Q. Is there a cure for Ebola?

A. No. There’s not even a specific treatment. The patient either survives or he doesn’t. Severely ill patients need IV fluids or oral rehydration with solutions containing electrolytes to help them survive.

Q. What are the symp­toms?

A. Sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat are typical. These are followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding. The incubation period is from two to 21 days. A patient becomes contagious once he begins to show symptoms.