Ebola - 8 Things You Need To Know About The Virus

RealClear Staff


The best offense is a good defense.

When it comes to preventing the outbreak of a virus with a 50% mortality rate, education is the best course of action. Here's everything you need to know about Ebola.

1. The virus is not airborne.

Unlike Anthrax, Chickenpox, or even Influenza, Ebola does not currently spread via transmission through the air, and it is incredibly unlikely to do so in the near future. The structure of the Ebola virus is not so that it will latch onto a human's bronchi or lungs. Without very specific evolutionary pressures that don't currently seem to exist, the Ebola virus' structure will not mutate in order to infect humans via their respiratory system. 

2. Nor is Ebola transmitted via insects.

Similar to its evolutionary inability to survive in a human's respiratory system, the Ebola virus also can't survive in insects, namely mosquitoes. Unlike West Nile, dengue fever, and yellow fever, mosquitoes are a complete non-factor in the spread of the Ebola virus. Spreading Ebola for a mosquito would be similar to the process of spreading HIV, which they are obviously unable to do. Mosquitoes inject their own specialized saliva into humans, not potentially infected blood from previous feedings. They do not pose the same risk as needles.

3. It's spread almost exclusively via bodily fluid.

According to the World Health Organization, the Ebola virus is spread primarily through direct contact with the bodily fluids of someone that has already been infected. Confirmed examples of fluids that can transmit the virus include saliva, semen, breast milk, and most importantly, blood. Though the virus doesn't typically inhabit fluids like sweat or tears, it is still recommended that all contact is closely monitored. The virus can be transmitted through both broken skin (a cut, for example) and mucous membranes (nose, mouth, eyes, genitals, etc.).

4. The virus can survive outside of a host, but not for long.

At room temperature, the Ebola virus is only able to survive outside of a host for a few hours when it is on a glass, metal, or plastic surface. The issue comes with samples of the virus residing in liquids, on linen materials, or in very cold environments (about 40 degrees Fahrenheit), where it can survive for 3 weeks or more. Studies concerning the survivability of the Ebola virus outside of a host are few and far between, so it's best to exercise extreme caution at all times, just to be safe. When in doubt, use bleach.

5. Symptoms of the Ebola virus will show in infected individuals within 3 weeks.

Those that carry the Ebola virus will show symptoms anywhere from 2-21 days after infection. Common symptoms will, at first, include fever, sore throat, fatigue, and general muscle pain. Diarrhea, vomiting, rashes, impaired kidney/liver function, and potential internal and/or external bleeding may also occur in later phases of sickness. Because early symptoms are fairly non-specific (what sickness doesn't come with fever, fatigue, and muscle pain), the most important factor in identifying possible Ebola infection is recent travel to West Africa, or direct contact with someone that has traveled to that area.

6. Only symptomatic people can spread the virus.

According to the Center for Disease Control, a person that has been infected by the Ebola virus must be showing the symptoms outlined above in order to spread the disease. Unlike HIV/AIDS for example, asymptomatic carriers of the virus are unable to infect others. For this reason, people on the plane with the first confirmed Ebola patient in the United States likely aren't at risk because they didn't report developing symptoms until 5 days after returning.

7. Hand sanitizer is very effective at preventing spreading the virus.

Any cleaning products containing a high enough concentration ethanol will be able to effectively "kill" the virus. The envelope which encases the actual Ebola virus breaks down easily when exposed to sanitizers that are at least 60% ethanol. Without its viral envelope, the Ebola virus is unable to latch on to target host cells as it normally would. If the virus can't dominate one cell, then it can't replicate and cause a viral infection. Simply practicing good hand hygiene may stop the virus in its tracks. Simple soap and water will work just as well.

8. Hospitals in the U.S. (and the rest of the first world) are prepared.

The picture below, taken at the Royal Free Hospital in London, England, shows an example of what a typical hospital room would look like for an Ebola patient residing in the first world. Though it's confirmed that the virus has made its way to the United States, the Center for Disease Control has been silently preparing hospitals for this very situation since the outbreak first began. The World Health Organization has also been offering detailed manuals on how to prevent the Ebola threat from spreading. It has always been a possibility that Ebola would make its way to the United States or Europe, and hospitals have been readying themselves accordingly.

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