The facts about Ebola: What you need to know

The Ebola virus under a microscope
The Ebola virus under a microscope (AP Images)
Infographic with facts about Ebola
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The current Ebola outbreak — with a death toll surpassing 3,000 in West Africa — is the deadliest in history.  The recent confirmation of the first Ebola case outside of West Africa — with a patient in the United States — vividly demonstrates that Ebola is a global threat that the world community must combat together.

Stopping this disease won’t be easy, but we know how to do it,” President Obama said in early September. Here’s what you need to know — the facts about Ebola:

  • What is it? Ebola is an often fatal type of viral hemorrhagic fever that infects humans and nonhuman primates.
  • How do you get it? Ebola is most commonly spread through contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person who shows symptoms or with the bodily fluids of someone who has died from the disease.
  • What does it look like? Symptoms include high fever, severe headache, muscle and stomach pain, weakness, lack of appetite, diarrhea and vomiting. These symptoms often appear within eight to 10 days of contracting the disease, though they can also show up in as few as two or as many as 21 days.
  • How is it treated? The World Health Organization emphasizes that the virus is best treated by professionals in a hospital and does not recommend home care. Because deaths from Ebola often result from dehydration, blood loss or organ failure, treatment means getting patients intravenous fluids, maintaining their blood pressure and treating infections.
  • Can you recover? Although there is no vaccine or medicine to treat the Ebola virus, recovery is possible if it’s caught early.

The U.S. government is collaborating with international organizations and the leaders of West African countries to stop the spread of Ebola. So far, the U.S. commitment to the Ebola outbreak totals $175 million — including donations of medical supplies, protective equipment for people working closely with infected patients and diagnostic tools for health workers — and 3,000 U.S. forces to support medical care.

If you are interested in supporting relief efforts, experts recommend making a cash contribution to a humanitarian organization that handles disaster response. A list of humanitarian organizations accepting cash donations for disaster responses around the world can be found on InterAction’s website.