How Does the Ebola Virus Spread?
Ebola virus disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, is a severe disease that is often fatal in humans. In fact, the average fatality rate is around 50 percent, a statistics that underscores the severity of the illness and the reason why the 2014 outbreak has become such a major cause for concern. While the virus is originally transmitted to people from wild animals, it is transmitted amongst humans through direct contact. Here is a detailed look at how Ebola can spread from one human to another.
Human-to-Human Transmission of Ebola
While researchers believe that the initial patient becomes infected with Ebola virus through direct contact with an infected animal, the disease can then be spread through broken skin or mucous membranes through which bodily fluids are shared. It’s important to understand that Ebola virus can only be passed through bodily fluids (including saliva, urine, feces, vomit, breast milk, and semen) and objects that have been contaminated with these fluids. According to WHO, men who have had Ebola can still transmit the virus via semen for up to seven weeks following recovery.
It’s important to understand that Ebola is not spread through air, water, or by food (unless that food is bush meat from Africa). Generally, healthcare providers and family members who are in close contact with an Ebola patient are at the highest risk of getting sick. This makes the disease much easier to contain in places like the U.S., where hospitals have excellent systems in place to prevent caregivers and loved ones from contracting the infection.
How to Protect Yourself Against Ebola
While there is currently little to no threat of an Ebola outbreak in the U.S., the CDC has issued a Level 3 Warning for those traveling to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, and a Level 2 Alert travel notice for Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. If you must travel to one of these areas affected by the 2014 outbreak, here are some general guidelines on how to protect yourself.
- Wash your hands frequently, using soap or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid hospitals or medical facilities where Ebola patients are being treated (you can get a list from the U.S. Embassy or consulate).
- Avoid any kind of contact with blood or bodily fluids of someone who has been sick. This includes items that may have come in contact with those fluids, such as linens or clothing.
- Stay away from bats and primates, and their blood or fluids. In addition, do not touch or eat raw meat that’s been prepared from these animals, as this can also carry the infection.
There are several symptoms that indicate an Ebola infection. It’s recommended that you seek medical care immediately if you develop a fever of 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, severe headache, muscle pain, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, and/or unexplained bruising or bleeding. Be sure to limit your contact with other people and avoid traveling anywhere besides to the nearest healthcare facility.