A trial vaccine for Ebola. Photo: NIAID.
A trial vaccine for Ebola. Photo: NIAID.

How does Ebola spread?

Ebola is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through close contact with infected blood, secretions and other bodily fluids. For example, kissing, sharing food, sex and breast feeding could lead to transmission.

What is the mortality rate?

In past outbreaks the virus has been fatal in 60% to 90% of cases. As of 22 September 2014, WHO reported almost 6000 cases and 2803 deaths from the current outbreak in three countries in west Africa: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

How contagious is it?

Because it is only transmitted through bodily fluids, you are not likely to get catch Ebola by just being in close proximity to an infected person. It is not airborne. However, the virus has recently been identified in one case in the US, via a man who travelled from Liberia to the US.

What are the symptoms?

High fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, sore throat, weakness, stomach pain and lack of appetite are some of the symptoms.

Why is it fatal?

The virus causes impaired kidney and liver function and in some cases, internal and external bleeding. Also, a drop in white blood cells, decreased platelet counts and elevated liver enzymes.

Is there a cure?

As of now, there is no vaccine or definitive cure. The U.S. government is currently developing a vaccine which has been shown to protect macaque monkeys but there is no guarantee it will be as effective in humans.

How do I protect myself from the virus?

Refrain from travelling to countries which have outbreaks like Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone in West Africa. According to WHO, “gloves and appropriate personal protective equipment should be worn when taking care of ill patients at home.”

Stephanie Boey

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Image credit: NIAID, Creative Commons Attribution License.