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Things You Should Know About the Ebola Virus

Remember, I am a practicing board certified family physician, so I have a number of patients who have approached me with questions about Ebola.  So I have compiled a list of commonly asked questions and a list of things you should know about the Ebola virus.

Where Did The Name Ebola Come From?

Ebola virus hemorrhagic fever is named after the river in the Congo where the virus was originally discovered in 1976.  Ebola is a zoonotic virus meaning that it originated in animals and was passed to humans by direct contact with bodily fluids of infected animals that are either alive or dead.

How Does One Become Infected With The Ebola Virus?

Ebola is passed through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person who has symptoms or from a deceased person who’s body is still infected with the virus.

If a person is infected with Ebola and has any of the following symptoms, their bodily fluids are likely contagious: high fever, vomiting, aches & pains, diarrhea, fatigue, and/or blood-shot eyes

What Does Direct Contact Mean? And What Are Bodily Fluids?

The Ebola virus isn’t an airborne virus.  You cannot catch it simply by breathing in.  Ebola is transmitted when the fluids of an infected person come into contact with broken skin on any part of the body of an uninfected person (a rash, sore, cut, unhealed wound or tattoo, etc) or in contact with the moist tissues of the body which are called mucous membranes (the eyes, inside of the nose, mouth, inner lips, and certain parts of the genitals).  This is why Ebola caregivers cover themselves from head to toe and why they wear protective eye, nose, and mouth gear.  It is to prevent the infected fluids from splashing on vulnerable areas of the body.

The most contagious of these bodily fluids are blood, vomit, urine, feces, breast milk, vaginal fluids, and semen.  However, as the Ebola virus replicates in the body and more virus is present and the patient gets sicker and sicker, saliva, body sweat, and tears also become highly infective.  So for a person that is very sick with the Ebola virus and potentially in their final stages of life, almost every bodily fluid they have carries enough of the virus to infect another person.

A child wiping her sick mother’s tears, a wife kissing her dying husband, a person touched by the sweaty shoulder of an infected passerby, and a loved one cleaning up infected vomit, are all vulnerable to Ebola virus.  Ebola is a virus that spreads rapidly in environments where sharing space, helping others, hugging, touching, and socializing are important ways of life.  That it what scares me the most about the virus.

Is it Safe to Assume that Most West Africans Could Have Ebola?

No.  You have to fight the temptation to assume that every African you see has the Ebola virus.  All of the available information suggests that Ebola is not contagious until the person has symptoms, and even though symptoms are vague, most people with Ebola feel awful and really just want to lay down and sleep.  The chances that they are headed to work with you at 7am on the train are pretty slim.  Chances are, a person with symptomatic Ebola is at home taking a sick day.

How Long Does it Take For the Ebola Virus to be Detected by Blood Test?

Currently the testing that the CDC uses to test for Ebola is a Real time RT-PCR test.  When a hospital suspects Ebola, they have to send the specimen to a lab participating in the CDC’s Laboratory response network that runs the 3-4hr test.  If the person has Ebola and has not started to have any symptoms, the PCR test will likely show that he does not have Ebola.  The PCR test usually detects the virus if symptoms have been present three days or more.

Can The Ebola Virus Live on a Door Handle or on a Chair After Someone Infected With the Virus Gets Up?

The Ebola virus needs a host to stay active which means that it needs the be in the body fluids of an animal or human, dead or alive in order to survive for more than a few hours.  Studies conducted by The CDC shows that in ideal conditions the virus outside the body can survive up to six days, but studies conducted in Africa suggest they survive in real conditions for less than twenty-four hours.

What Cleaning Products Will Destroy Ebola?

Bleach and chlorinated cleaning products have been used effectively to destroy the virus.

Since There Is a Cure That Was Used to Save American Lives, Why Can’t it be Shipped to West Africa?

ZMapp is an experimental drug that was used successfully to treat international aid workers and two Americans infected with Ebola, but they have run out of the drug.  ZMapp is an experimental drug that hasn’t been tested on human subjects yet, nor has it been produced in large enough quantities to ship to Western Africa.  In studies ZMapp protected monkeys even five days after infection.  During animal clinical trials ZMapp was highly successful treating monkey with Ebola.  Since the Ebola outbreak, two Americans have been successfully treated, but a Liberian doctor and a Spanish priest who were both given the drug died.

TKM-Ebola is also an experimental drug and has also been authorized by the US FDA and the CDC to be given to people with confirmed and suspected cases of Ebola.  This drug got as far as a Phase 1 clinical trial which was actually suspended early 2014 due to human subjects developing flu-like symptoms.

If Ebola Becomes an Issue in the US, What Can I Do to Protect Myself?

If Ebola is a concern, some of the basic hygiene tips that we give during flu season will help, but in addition, worldwide, people will have to change how they socialize in order to stay safe.

  • Minimize skin to skin contact as much as possible.  The virus can be transmitted through sweat and saliva.  This means hugs, kisses, handshakes, fist bumps, etc.
  • Sunglasses to decrease the possibility that infected bodily fluids could splash into your eyes.  Even a small drop of saliva could pass the virus.
  • Avoid touching surfaces and then touching your face.
  • Wear long sleeves and long pants to keep your skin covered as much as possible
  • Moisturize your skin and lips regularly to avoid cracking which can be a way for the virus to get inside your bloodstream
  • Carry around hand sanitizer and use it after each human encounter and after touching potentially infected surfaces.
  • We like to help, but take precautions when helping.  Do not touch other people’s vomit, diarrhea, urine,  or blood, without gloves.

Please share these questions with your loved ones and let me know if you have anymore!  Watch me as a daily co-host on the hit TV show The Doctors.  Join The Doctor’s discussion and our growing concern about The Ebola virus

Listen to The Ebola Conversation I had with the team from The Tom Joyner Morning Show

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