The recent outbreak of Ebola in West Africa has created a pandemic, but not on the viral scale. The world’s citizens are scared, and because they are constantly reminded that Ebola is just a “plane ride away” from their country, more people are looking for ways to protect themselves from Ebola. The disease may not be fully studied or understood as of yet, but there are some things that experts do know: how it is transmitted and how to protect yourself from getting it. If you are worried about the recent Ebola outbreak — regardless of where you live — there are things you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones.
What is the Ebola Virus?
Ebola is a rare, deadly virus that comes from the hemorrhagic family of diseases. There are five strains of the Ebola virus and they are typically found in Africa. The first Ebola virus strain was discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River, which is where it received its name. Since its discovery, outbreaks have been recorded throughout the years, usually sporadically and not as severe as the 2014 Ebola Outbreak. While there is no official evidence as to where it originated from, some experts believe that the virus is animal-borne and that bats are most likely the carrier of the disease.
The five strains of Ebola include:
- Zaire – the deadliest of the five
- Tai Forest
Ebola is a very painful disease. It can damage the immune system severely (sometimes permanently) and eventually damages the organs. Blood cells lose their clotting capabilities, which is why people who have Ebola are prone to bleeding from the eyes and other openings.
The symptoms of Ebola often feel like a severe flu or illness when they first present. They can also be misdiagnosed for other African-borne diseases. Symptoms typically show within two to 21 days after exposure and can include:
- High Fever (over 101 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Sore Throat
- Joint Pain and Muscle Stiffness
- Stomach Pain
- Gastrointestinal Issues
- Lack of Appetite
There is no cure or vaccine for Ebola. Patients are given fluids and often blood transfusions to help keep their organs functioning long enough for their body to fight off the virus. Treatment, including hydration, oxygen, and preventing secondary infections is all medical professionals can do once a person has contracted the virus. Most patients who die from Ebola die from dehydration or blood loss.
Are You at Risk for Exposure?
If you are in a country that does not have an Ebola outbreak, your risks are low. If you have traveled recently to any countries, especially West Africa, you may have been exposed to the Ebola virus, but the risk could still be relatively low. Until recently, all cases of Ebola originated from Africa — and those patients were cared for in Africa. Healthcare workers, family and friends who are caring for Ebola patients are at high-risk for contracting this deadly virus. This is because they are in direct contact with the patient and their virus. Also, anyone working with bats or other animals in Africa could be at risk for contracting Ebola.
How Ebola is Transmitted
Ebola is not transmitted like a typical flu or cold virus. It is not as contagious as other viral diseases and it only spreads by direct contact with infected bodily fluids. Even more so, the patient must be exhibiting symptoms at the time of exposure for them to be contagious. So if someone is in the incubation period and you are exposed to their fluids, the chances of you developing Ebola are very low. That is why people caring for Ebola patients while they are ill are more likely to catch it.
The disease is not airborne, though researchers are worried as the outbreaks continue the disease could mutate to an airborne virus — though the chances of this are low. There is no evidence that Ebola can be contracted through contact with the air, water or even insect bites. Once a person recovers from Ebola, they are no longer contagious and they are immune from that strain of Ebola. Ebola can, however, remain in the semen for up to three months after the individual tests negative for the virus.
Ebola is not transmitted through casual contact either. If you were to sit next to someone with Ebola, even if they are symptomatic, the chances of you getting the disease are still very low. You must have direct contact on your skin or any mucus membranes with their infected bodily fluids to get Ebola.
How to Protect Yourself from Ebola
Even though the transmission of the disease is difficult, the outbreak of 2014 has proven that Ebola can still be contracted and is easily spread. There are ways you can protect yourself from getting Ebola and you may be surprised at how simple some of these prevention methods are.
Remember there is No Vaccine or Cure
There is no vaccine or cure for Ebola. Patients who get the virus receive life-supporting care while their bodies fight the infection. While there are non-approved medications, these are in limited supply and have yet to be approved by the FDA for their effectiveness. The first time these medications were used was with the 2014 Ebola Outbreak.
1. Hygiene is Key
One reason Ebola spreads in African countries is because of hygiene. They do not have access to clean water, soap or even sanitizer. Unsanitary conditions allow this disease to thrive. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. If you do not have access to soap or water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer — these have been proven effective at killing the virus.
2. Avoid Direct Contact with Infected or Suspected Individuals and Their Belongings
If you are in a country affected with Ebola, avoid direct contact with anyone showing symptoms. This goes for their belongings too. Never handle an infected person’s belongings, including bedding or other items they may have touched. Ebola can live for several hours and up to several days on surfaces. Allow professionals to remove contaminated items and ensure all items touched by the individual have been burned — never discard in the trash
3. Keep an Eye Out for Fever for 21 Days
If you have traveled from an Ebola affected country, keep an eye on yourself for 21 days. That includes taking your temperature twice a day. If you develop any symptoms, seek medical attention right away. The faster you receive therapeutic care, the more likely you are to survive an Ebola infection. If you know of someone who has returned from Africa, avoid contact with them for 21 days until they have proven they are not symptomatic.
4. Avoid Funerals or Burials for Ebola Patients
Do not attend funerals or burials for anyone who has died from Ebola. Ebola lives on corpses and can still be transmitted by touching a body.
5. Do Not Fly Into Africa
Africa is the hardest hit by Ebola. During an outbreak, avoid any flights to African countries or other countries experiencing an Ebola outbreak. The risk is just to great to put your life in jeopardy. If you’re forced to visit Africa, protect yourself by wearing disposable rubber gloves (changing them frequently) and a protective masks. Do everything in your power to avoid people who display the signs and/or symptoms of Ebola.
6. Avoid Contact with Carriers
Do not come into contact with bats or other nonhuman primates. They are known to be possible carriers of Ebola and even when an Ebola outbreak is not present, you could contract the disease if one of those animals is carrying it.
7. Avoid Crowds
While it isn’t airborne, avoid crowds in affected countries. If someone sneezes or coughs the Ebola virus, micro mucus droplets could be transmitted to you and you could contract the virus — though this is very low risk it could still happen.
Do not use bathrooms where an Ebola patient has used them previously and never enter a bathroom an Ebola patient has used without protective equipment.
8. Use Bleach
Bleach is the most effective killer of Ebola. Use a 1:100 bleach solution to clean surfaces, equipment, bedding, and reusable protective equipment. Boiling infected items for 20 minutes at high temperatures can also kill the Ebola virus. For clothing and hard surfaces, you can use a bleach solution of 1:10, but this is highly potent and should only be used while wearing protective equipment.
Ebola is a scary, rare disease that can cause worldwide panic, but it doesn’t have to. By protecting yourself and limiting your exposure, you can reduce the chances of contracting this deadly virus.
If you suspect that you have contracted the disease, seek medical attention immediately.