Frequently Asked Questions: Ebola

What is Ebola?
Ebola is an infectious disease, a virus that is transmitted through direct contact with someone who is already sick with the virus. Although Ebola can be found in animals in Africa, including fruit bats and primates, outbreaks and disease in other countries have always been acquired from people already sick with Ebola.

Ebola is transmitted through the blood, urine or other body fluids of someone who is showing symptoms of the disease.

What are the symptoms of Ebola?
Symptoms of Ebola include:

  • Fever of 100.4°F or higher
  • Severe headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Weakness
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal (stomach) pain
  • Unexplained hemorrhage (bleeding or bruising)

These symptoms may appear anywherefrom 2 to 21 days after exposure to the virus. A person with Ebola is contagious once they start to show symptoms. Some may experience additional symptoms. For a full list of signs and symptoms, visit the CDC website.

What is my risk for Ebola?
Although Ebola is a very serious disease, it does not spread as easily as diseases like the flu and measles. Ebola is spread only through direct contact with the blood or body fluids of someone with Ebola disease. People who may come in contact with the blood, vomit, feces, urine or other body fluids of a sick person are at risk.

People who have traveled within the past 4 weeks to and from countries with an ongoing Ebola outbreak and who may have been exposed to the virus are most at risk. Simply traveling to these countries does not put someone at risk.  

How is it spread?
Ebola is not an airborne virus like the flu or measles. It is only acquired by direct contact with the body fluids of an infected person. Ebola is not transmitted by mosquitoes; being bitten by mosquitoes does not put you at risk for Ebola.

Keep in mind:

  • Viruses such as Influenza (“the flu”) are much more contagious than Ebola.
  • Ebola is not spread through air or water, or in general, by food.
  • Once someone recovers from Ebola, they can no longer spread the virus.

Can I be a carrier for Ebola?
If you do not have symptoms of the Ebola virus, you are not contagious and cannot be a carrier.

What should I do if I have symptoms?
The chances of developing Ebola after traveling to an affected country are extremely small, unless you have had close contact with someone sick with Ebola. 

Many of the symptoms of Ebola (high fever, muscles aches and fatigue), can be caused by the flu and other viral infections, or by bacterial diseases. And there are many causes of fever in people who have traveled, including malaria, typhoid fever and others, so Ebola is very unlikely unless you have had close contact with someone who is already sick with Ebola.

But if you have symptoms and you have traveled to an affected country or had contact with someone sick with Ebola within the last four weeks, call your doctor immediately.

How is Ebola treated?
There are no FDA-approved specific medications of vaccinations to treat Ebola available. At this time, Ebola is treated through:

  • Immediate isolation of the patient and use of strict infection control protocols
  • Monitoring fluids and providing additional intravenous fluids, if needed, and balancing electrolytes
  • Maintaining frequent vital signs, oxygen status and blood pressure, and lab monitoring
  • Treating other infections if they occur

What are the long-term effects of Ebola?
Patients infected with Ebola virus do not become long-term carriers. Patients are contagious only when showing symptoms of Ebola virus infection, or for a short period of time after they resolve their infection. As with any ICU patient, long-term complications can arise that are secondary to infection.

How is UMass Memorial prepared?
Months ago, when Ebola first started appearing in West Africa, we created a task force that has developed very detailed plans for identifying, isolating and caring for patients who come in with suspected Ebola virus or other illness.

Our training program for caregivers in the treatment of patients with Ebola builds upon our already well-established infection control protocols. We have supplies and equipment on hand, including protective gear, to be sure our staff can quickly and effectively provide safe care.

We have also been working very closely with emergency groups and health care agencies in Worcester and Central Massachusetts, along with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) and the national Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Both the DPH and CDC have helpful information available on their websites: www.mass.gov/dph and www.cdc.gov.

Sources: Emory Healthcare “Advancing Your Health” Blog and CDC Website