How easy is it to get Ebola?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
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The potentially deadly Ebola virus has infected 786 confirmed people and there are 1093 suspected cases as of July 20, 2014 The Ebola virus could spread anywhere including the US. But even if it did, how easy is it to 'catch' the virus?

Ebola, also known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, is passed from one infected person to another. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the exact way the virus jumps to humans from animals hosts isn't entirely clear.

The original harbinger of Ebola is thought to be the fruit bat, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). People originally became infected from handling the bats and also from handling infected animals in the rain forest, including dead animals and the raw meat of infected animals.

Once Ebola infects a human, it is transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids including blood, saliva or other secretions of the infected person. The virus can enter a healthy person through broken skin in contact with urine, feces, saliva or semen.

Handling bed linens, soiled clothing and needles contaminated with Ebola can also cause infection.

Health care workers and caregivers are at highest risk for contracting the disease.

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Another way the virus can spread is from equipment used to care for patients that is either re-used or improperly sterilized.

Why is Ebola called hemorrhagic fever?

The virus destroys the body's platelets which are responsible for blood clotting. It also attacks the liver than produces vitamin K to help our blood clot. The result leads to internal and external bleeding.

Viruses are generally self-limiting and not everyone with Ebola will die. The goal of treatment is supportive care. There is no vaccine to prevent the disease.

How to prevent Ebola

Hospitals and caregivers must understand how the virus is spread in order to prevent becoming infected. Proper handling and disposing of instruments, washing of bed linens and sterilizing of equipment is needed to prevent further Ebola outbreaks. Special caution should be taken in areas where Ebola is reported to make sure meat is fully cooked. Handling of infected animals, including carcasses should be done with protective equipment and the carcass immediately buried.

Even if Ebola did spread to the United States, it's important to know it would not be easy to catch. But it is very contagious. In order to become infected with Ebola you would have to have direct contact with an infected person's or animal's body secretions. You also have to know a person or animal is infected, which is one of the problems in preventing its spread. The virus could still infect a healthy person even after an animal or person dies, making it important to follow all safety directives from government organizations

Image credit: Wikimeda Commons

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