Q. While our family has not traveled to Africa, I know missionaries in our church who traveled there this summer. Should I be concerned about Ebola?
A. Ebola is a severe viral illness that can start with common viral symptoms but can lead to multiystem organ failure, hemorrhage (bleeding) and often death. The disease was first seen in humans in 1976.
The recent outbreak in West Africa has heightened public awareness of the disease.
As of Aug. 8, health officials have reported 1,779 cases of Ebola virus (1,134 laboratory confirmed) and 961 deaths in the countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is the largest outbreak in the disease's history.
Ebola virus is transmitted by direct contact with blood or secretions from an infected individual. The virus does not spread through the air. Most commonly, it spreads to family members and health care workers who had contact with an infected person before the virus was identified.
Initial symptoms include fever, weakness, muscle soreness, headache and sore throat. These symptoms are very nonspecific and similar to many other viral illnesses. As the virus progresses, the person may experience vomiting, diarrhea, rash, liver or kidney problems, bruising, bleeding, shock and organ failure. The time between exposure to the disease and appearance of symptoms ranges from 2 to 21 days.
Awareness is important – particularly in the health care setting, with regard to travel history and potential exposure to Ebola virus. However, fear of contracting the virus in the United States is unwarranted at this time.