Ebola Outbreak 2014: Facts and Misconceptions

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With the Ebola virus outbreak currently raging in Africa, the disease has been in the news a lot lately. Ebola is a severe illness found in humans and other primates, which has primarily appeared in rain forest areas in West Africa, where the current outbreak is located, and in Central Africa. There is no licensed specific treatment or vaccine for humans or animals. Drug therapies exist, but supportive care is the primary treatment. The current outbreak is the largest and longest in history.

Many people around the world don't know much about the disease, or have misconceptions about how it spreads and how it affects victims. In this blog post, we'll clear up some of the misunderstandings so you can be better informed.

What does it look like when you're infected?

Ebola has a variety of symptoms, some of which are more typical than others depending on the specific case. The most common symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Joint and muscle aches
  • Weakness
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Lack of appetite

Some patients also experience less common symptoms, including:

  • Rash
  • Red eyes
  • Hiccups
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Internal and external bleeding

Symptoms appear within 2 to 21 days of exposure to the virus.

How do you contract the Ebola virus?

Ebola is transmitted through:

  1. Contact with the blood or other bodily fluid of an infected person
  2. Contact with objects (like needles) that have been contaminated by infected fluid

The virus spreads quickly in families and groups of friends because they remain in close contact with infected people. Once someone dies of Ebola, some funeral rites that involve handling the remains can help to transmit the disease. Hospitals and clinics are also vulnerable, particularly in situations where protection and sterilization of instruments aren't strictly enforced. This is the main way outbreaks sustain themselves - by inflicting themselves on those who are caring for the other sick, dying, and dead.

Misconceptions about Ebola

Most people know very little about Ebola, and ignorance leads to misconceptions and to fear. Here are some things you may think you know about Ebola, and the truth behind it.

1. Ebola is highly contagious to everyone in the area.

In reality, Ebola can only be transmitted through direct contact with infected bodily fluid or contaminated objects. It's not transmitted through air, water, or other means. If you avoid contact with Ebola patients, you are typically safe.

2. The main symptom of Ebola is profuse bleeding.

This does happen in some cases, but other symptoms are much more common (and just as deadly).

3. One Ebola case in the United States could lead to a massive epidemic.

The medical system in the US is robust enough to stifle any possible epidemic, and Ebola is much less contagious than other diseases like the cold, the flu, measles, or malaria. It's unlikely that Ebola would be able to become widespread in the United States, even in an individual city.

4. Anyone with Ebola is dangerous to others.

Only people experiencing symptoms are a danger to those around them. If you are asymptomatic, you cannot spread Ebola. In other words, it's very difficult for someone to spread Ebola without knowing they're doing it, or without knowing they're infected.

5. The best treatment for Ebola can be found in the home, or using natural remedies.

If you start experiencing Ebola symptoms, you should immediately seek professional medical attention. Immediate treatment gives a victim of Ebola the greatest chance of survival.

6. Certain foods or local water can carry Ebola.

Again, Ebola is not a waterborne illness. Fresh and properly prepared food has no risk of transmitting Ebola. It's believed that the virus made its way to humans through contaminated bushmeat, but if you avoid that, food contamination is not an issue.

7. After recovery, Ebola patients can still transmit the disease.

Only those experiencing symptoms are contagious. Men who have recovered can transmit the disease sexually for up to 7 weeks after symptoms fade, however.


Ebola is a very dangerous disease, but even more dangerous is the disease working together with misinformation and ignorance. Knowing the truth helps to prevent panic, and helps to contain the disease. If you're planning to go to Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia, or Guinea in the near future, you need to know all you can about Ebola—to decide whether your trip is worth it, and to know how to stay safe.


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