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Ebola Virus Disease: Symptoms & Treatment

Dr Rohit Bhaskar
Dr Rohit Bhaskar
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Ebola is caused by a virus.

It is rare, very contagious (easily spread to others) and often deadly illness which spreads through contact of infected body fluids (from a sick person or from objects contaminated with body fluids, even door knobs).

Ebola causes fever, pain, diarrhea and bleeding.

It has occurred in Central and West Africa but can be carried and spread by travelers from this region. The largest outbreaks occurred in 2014-2016 mostly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Ebola Virus Disease

On average, 50% of people who get Ebola virus disease die.

Medication and the treatment of symptoms improve the chance of survival. Controlling outbreaks helps keep the Ebola virus from spreading.

How do you get Ebola?

Ebola is caused by a virus from the group of viral hemorrhagic fever (VHF) viruses (Marburg virus is another).

Infection occurs by direct contact with infected body fluids - blood, diarrhea, saliva (“spit”), mucus (“snot”), urine (“pee”), vomit (“puke”), breast milk or semen from an infected person or animal (bat, monkey or ape).

After direct contact you then touch your eyes, nose, mouth or an area of broken skin.

The infected body fluids can be on a person or object. You can also get Ebola virus disease from an infected bat, monkey or ape. It is not spread through the air.

What are the symptoms of Ebola?

Symptoms occur on average of two to six 6 days after exposure but occasionally not until 21 days later.

Symptoms have an abrupt (quick) onset. They include:

  • Fever and chills.
  • Poor appetite.
  • Achiness of muscle and bones.
  • Headache.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Vomiting.
  • Rash.
  • Bleeding (in diarrhea, from nose or mouth or even areas of minor injury).

How is Ebola diagnosed?

Healthcare providers use lab tests to help diagnose Ebola. It may take up to three days for the Ebola virus to reach levels that lab tests can detect. Therefore the diagnosis is often made first by the symptoms and findings for the patient.

How is Ebola treated?

In October 2020, the FDA approved the first treatment for Ebola. The new medication, Inmazeb™, combines three antibodies (atoltivimab, maftivimab and odesivimab-ebgn). Patients who take Inmazeb have a higher chance of survival.

Healthcare providers treat Ebola virus symptoms to improve the chance of survival.

Treatments include giving:

  • IV or fluids and electrolytes (body salts).
  • Medicine to control fever, diarrhea and vomiting.
  • Oxygen.

Your risk for getting Ebola is higher if you’re in an area with an active outbreak. Nearly all Ebola outbreaks occur in African countries.

A vaccine has also been developed for those at high risk of becoming infected.

To help prevent becoming sick with Ebola avoid:

  • Direct contact with infected body fluids.
  • Items that may contain infected body fluids.
  • Visiting Ebola treatment clinics or hospitals.
  • Touching the body of someone who has died from an Ebola virus infection.
  • Contact with certain animals such as bats, monkeys and chimps.
  • Eating bushmeat (the meat of wild animals such as bats, antelope and monkeys).

Care providers need to take extra care to avoid getting or spreading Ebola. Steps care providers can take to avoid getting Ebola include:

  • Sterilizing equipment.
  • Using disposable equipment and supplies.
  • Washing hands.
  • Wearing gloves, masks, glasses and other protective clothing.

Care providers can help reduce the spread of the Ebola virus by:

  • Disinfecting homes of people who have Ebola. It can be killed and sterilized with bleach and hospital type disinfectants.
  • Isolating people who have Ebola.
  • Testing and monitoring people who have had contact with someone who has Ebola.
  • Watching for new cases of Ebola.

Can Ebola be cured?

About half of the people who get Ebola die. The survival rate has improved greatly since scientists discovered Ebola in the 1970s. Previously, as many as 90% of sick people died. New antibody treatments offer hope for survival rates to continue to improve.

Are there long-term effects of Ebola?

Ebola survivors may have ongoing mental and physical problems.

Physical problems include:

Mental effects include:

When should I get medical care?

If you’re in an area with an active Ebola outbreak and have Ebola symptoms, get care right away. Care can help improve symptoms and raise your chance of survival. It can also stop Ebola from spreading.

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