In March 2014, an outbreak of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) was recognized in Guinea, in West Africa. This outbreak has now spread to Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, and Senegal and is ongoing, though the outbreaks in Nigeria and Senegal seem to be under control. There have now been several cases in the United States as well, related to a traveler from Liberia arriving in Dallas, TX. Thousands of people have been infected and around 60% of them have died during this outbreak, the largest EVD outbreak ever recorded since Ebola was first discovered in 1976. An outbreak of Ebola has also occurred recently in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but it is a different strain than in the other countries.
Ebola is spread through direct contact with blood or secretions of someone who is infected with the virus or by exposure to objects such as needles that have been infected with contaminated secretions. It is not spread through the air or by food or water.
The symptoms of Ebola typically include fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, lack of appetite, and stomach pain. Some patients develop a rash, red eyes, hiccups, a cough, sore throat, chest pain, difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing, and bleeding inside and outside of the body. From the time someone is exposed to the disease until they develop symptoms is generally 8–10 days but it can be as little as 2 and as many as 21 days. The death rate varies depending on many factors, including the medical care received, how soon care is received, the patient’s immune system, and the type of Ebola the person contracts.
There is no cure and no vaccine for EVD. Standard treatment of Ebola includes balancing the patient’s fluids and electrolytes, maintaining their oxygen status and blood pressure, and treating them for any complicating infections. Further information for clinicians is available.