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House Calls: The Ebola virus is serious

The Ebola virus causes hemorrhagic fever. It is severe, often fatal in humans.

When infection occurs symptoms start immediately.

It was first discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There is a large outbreak in West Africa now. It may spread to the US due to international airline travel. However, the spread will be very limited in the US.

The virus can be spread with direct contact of blood or saliva of an infected person. Also, exposure to objects such as needles that have been contaminated can spread the virus. The virus is often spread through family and friends due to close contact.

Symptoms of Ebola are fever, headaches, muscle aches, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, lack of appetite and abdominal pain. Some patients may experience a rash, red eyes, hiccups, cough, sore throat, difficulty breathing, and bleeding inside and outside of the body.

Symptoms may appear two to 21 days after exposure.

Confirmed cases have been reported in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, South Sudan, Ivory Coast, Uganda, and South Africa. All cases of human illness and death have occurred in Africa.

Two US workers from Liberia who contracted the disease were flown back to the US and they are in Emory Hospital in Atlanta.

Highest risk people are health care workers in Africa or family and friends of an infected individual. If there is reason to suspect Ebola the person should be isolated and public health officials should be notified immediately. Lab tests should be done to confirm or disprove the illness.

Standard treatment of Ebola is limited to supportive treatment. Balancing fluids and electrolytes and maintaining oxygen status and blood pressure. Also, treatment of any complication infections is needed. Treatment of the human aid workers flown to US from Liberia were given the experimental drug ZMapp and have shown signs of improvement with the drug.

Prevention is always the best case in any illness. Avoiding travel in endemic areas is important. Avoidance of suspected infected individuals is a must. If infection is suspected, contact local health personnel.

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