Adapted from World Health Organization
What is Ebola?
Ebola virus disease is a severe, often fatal illness. The illness affects humans and nonhuman primates (monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees). Ebola first appeared in 1976 in two simultaneous outbreaks, one in a village near the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the other in a remote area of Sudan. The origin of the virus is unknown but fruit bats (Pteropodidae) are considered the likely host of the Ebola virus, based on available evidence.
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.
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. Patients become 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.
When should someone seek medical care?
If a person has been in an area known to have confirmed cases of 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.