Can I Catch Ebola?

A few years ago, Richard Preston’s best-selling book The Hot Zone had everyone talking about the Ebola virus and its deadly effects.

Today, the disease has again become a hot topic thanks to concerns about bioterrorism and other threats. Knowing the facts about ebola can help you better understand the risks.

What is Ebola?

Ebola, and the related Marburg virus, are very serious and frequently fatal diseases. Typically, they do occur as outbreaks with the virus spreading quickly from one host to another.

Both viruses started in primate populations in African tropical forests. However, they have spread into the human population with devastating results.

Currently, the average person has very little risk of being infected by Ebola or Marburg, especially since most outbreaks have been confided to specific parts of Africa.

What Causes Ebola?

Ebola is caused by a virus that is spread through body fluids, including blood. Once a person has been infected by Ebola, he or she may begin to experience hemorrhagic fevers. These can lead to extensive bleeding throughout the body.

Because the blood can come from anywhere in the body, organ failure and shock are the most common causes of death.

Unfortunately, the external bleeding from the infected body helps spread the Ebola to new hosts who come in contact with the contaminated blood.

For these reasons, people most likely to be affected by Ebola are medical personnel working in high-risk parts of Africa and individuals who may end up working with infected primates.

What are the Symptoms of Ebola?

You may not know you have been infected immediately. In fact, symptoms do not begin appearing for up to 7 days after exposure to the virus. You may begin seeing fairly mundane symptoms, such as headaches, fever, body aches, a sore throat, and weakness.

Eventually, these symptoms may progress to vomiting, diarrhea, a rash, chest pain, stomach pain, confusion, depression, other mood changes, and bleeding. For some patients, bleeding is so profuse it comes from all orifices, including the nose, the rectum, even the eyes.

How Can Ebola be Diagnosed & Treated?

Although blood tests can detect the presence of Ebola in the blood, the serious and infectious nature of the disease makes such testing very dangerous.

There are no clear benefits to identifying the disease early anyway because no medications have proven effective in treating the disease. Instead, most patients receive treatment towards the symptoms not the disease itself. For example, fluid and blood levels may be kept up through infusions.