Ebola: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

Ebola Respiratory Disease

Ebola virus disease (EVD) is a serious illness that can kill people. The virus is most often spread when a person without proper protective gear touches contaminated blood or body fluids, such as spit, sweat, feces, vomit, and semen.

It can also be spread through contact with objects contaminated with these fluids or through broken skin, such as a cut, scratch, or scrape.

Symptoms

The first symptoms of Ebola can be flu-like, and include fever, aches and pains, extreme tiredness, diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain. Some patients have hemorrhage (including internal bleeding), a rash, red eyes and difficulty breathing or swallowing. Death usually occurs when the disease progresses to severe complications such as shock and massive blood loss.

Doctors diagnose Ebola by asking about your health history and when you might have been exposed to the virus. They will also do blood tests and a swab of your saliva. A stick with a cotton tip is wiped inside your mouth to test for viruses and bacteria.

Ebola spreads through direct contact with the blood or bodily fluids of an infected person, their dead bodies or surfaces and materials contaminated with those fluids. Health care workers (HCW) who treat infected people are at high risk for infection. They wear caps covering their heads, masks shielding their faces and gowns, gloves and eye protection to prevent exposure. They are often isolated in hospitals and cared for in intensive care units.

Diagnosis

Ebola is a severe and often deadly disease caused by infection with the Ebola virus. It is spread by direct contact with blood or body fluids from a person who has EVD or who has died of EVD. It also can be spread through contact with objects (such as needles) that are contaminated with infected blood or body fluids. The virus does not spread through the air, like the flu.

EVD can be diagnosed with a simple blood test and a stool or fecal culture. People who have EVD are placed in isolation to keep them from spreading the virus. A vaccine is available that can help prevent EVD in people who are 18 years of age and older.

To avoid getting EVD, do not go to areas or countries where outbreaks have occurred. Practice good hygiene and do not touch wild animals (such as monkeys, forest antelopes, and porcupines) or their dead bodies. It is important to avoid close contact with bats (including those in caves). Vaccines against the Zaire, Bundibugyo, and Reston strains of Ebola virus have been developed.

Treatment

There are few medicines that can treat EVD, but early supportive care may improve survival. It includes hydration and medicine to control symptoms, such as fever, diarrhea and vomiting.

Blood tests can help diagnose Ebola, but it takes several days for the virus to reach levels that lab tests can detect. A positive test means the person has Ebola and should be isolated.

In the PALM trial (Pamoja Tulinde Maisha, which in Kiswahili means “Together We Save Lives”), two monoclonal antibody treatments were shown to drastically reduce death rates in EVD cases. The FDA approved the first treatment, called Inmazeb, in October 2020.

Men who survive Ebola can spread the virus through their sperm for up to 3 months. To prevent this, they should not have sex, including oral sex, until their semen has tested negative twice. The virus can also stay in other body fluids, such as breast milk, amniotic fluid and spinal fluid.

Prevention

Ebola spreads through direct contact with blood or body fluids (including urine, saliva, sweat, feces, vomit, breast milk and semen) of an infected person or animal, either alive or dead. It can also enter the body through breaks in the skin, including cuts or abrasions.

Once in the body, Ebola causes severe, often fatal illness. It triggers a massive immune response that damages multiple organ systems, and if untreated, can cause death within days of the onset of symptoms.

There is no vaccine to prevent Ebola, but the virus can be stopped in its tracks by stopping an outbreak where it starts. This requires strong support for countries affected, enabling them to identify and respond quickly to an outbreak. Healthcare workers are at risk for Ebola, but they can protect themselves and others by following standard infection prevention and control precautions. They should use personal protective equipment and wash their hands regularly. They should also avoid close contact with sick family members and avoid using contaminated materials, such as clothes and bedding.

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