Easing fears with fact
It’s perfectly natural to be concerned when you hear about a deadly virus outbreak—particularly when the media is often prone to sensationalizing this sort of thing—and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa certainly gripped the attention of anxious people around the world in 2014. In the wake of speculation, rumors and faulty information, we now have the facts needed to calm any lingering fears.
According to CNN, Ebola hemorrhagic fever is a disease caused by one of five different Ebola viruses. Four of the strains can cause illness in humans and animals, while the fifth only affects animals. The first human outbreak of Ebola occurred in 1976 in Africa, and is named after the Ebola River where the virus was first recognized.
Perhaps the most important thing to know about Ebola is that it is extremely infectious but not extremely contagious.1 That means that while it only takes an incredibly small amount of the virus to infect someone, because it is not transmitted through the air it is not extremely contagious. Illnesses like measles and influenza are considered more contagious than Ebola.
In the interest of clarity, here are other important facts about the virus2:
- Ebola is not spread through casual contact, air, water or food legally purchased in the United States
- You can only get Ebola through direct contact with:
- Body fluids of someone who is sick with or has died from Ebola (blood, vomit, urine, feces, sweat, semen, spit and other fluids)
- Objects contaminated with the virus (needles, medical equipment)
- Infected animals (by contact with blood, fluids or infected meat)
- Ebola can only be spread when people are visibly sick. Patients must be showing symptoms in order to spread the disease to others.
- Symptoms can appear from 2 to 21 days after exposure.
- After 21 days, if someone who has been exposed to Ebola does not develop symptoms, they will not become sick with Ebola.
In general, basic hand hygiene is one of the best ways to stay healthy. The Centre for Disease Control stresses that keeping your hands clean through improved hand hygiene is one of the most important steps you can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs. Make sure to scrub them using soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from start to finish twice if you need a timer. Always wash your hands:
- Before, during, and after preparing food
- Before eating food
- Before and after caring for someone who is sick
- Before and after treating a cut or wound
- After using the toilet
- After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
- After handling pet food or pet treats
- After touching garbage
For more information on preventing the spread of illness visit Livestrong, to find out about the American Red Cross response to Ebola visit, and for additional information on Ebola visit the World Health Organization.