Disclaimer: The goal of this resource sheet is to provide a clear and concise presentation of the facts, which will hopefully lead the reader to investigate the issues further using credible and accurate sources of information. It is not meant to replace any official resources and information.
- Ebola virus disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, is a severe, often fatal illness in humans.
- The virus is transmitted in the human population through human-to-human transmission through contact with body fluids (blood, urine, vomit, feces, mucus, semen etc.), sharing clothing/towels and direct contact with a sick or dead person.
- It is not spread by air (sneezing, coughing)! It is not spread through eating food!
- The average EVD case fatality rate is around 50%. Case fatality rates have varied from 25% to 90% in past outbreaks.
- The first EVD outbreaks occurred in remote villages in Central Africa, near tropical rainforests, but the most recent outbreak in West Africa has involved major urban as well as rural areas.
- Community engagement is the key to successfully controlling outbreaks. Good outbreak control relies on applying a package of interventions, namely case management, surveillance and contact tracing, a good laboratory service, safe burials and social mobilization.
- Early supportive care with rehydration, symptomatic treatment improves survival. There is as yet no licensed treatment proven to neutralize the virus but a range of blood, immunological and drug therapies are under development.
- There are currently no licensed Ebola vaccines but 2 potential candidates are undergoing evaluation.
It is thought that fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family are natural Ebola virus hosts. Ebola is introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals such as chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines found ill or dead or in the rainforest.
Ebola then spreads through human-to-human transmission via direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and with surfaces and materials (e.g. bedding, clothing) contaminated with these fluids.
Health-care workers have frequently been infected while treating patients with suspected or confirmed EVD. This has occurred through close contact with patients when infection control precautions are not strictly practiced.
Burial ceremonies in which mourners have direct contact with the body of the deceased person can also play a role in the transmission of Ebola.
People remain infectious as long as their blood and body fluids, including semen and breast milk, contain the virus. Men who have recovered from the disease can still transmit the virus through their semen for up to 7 weeks after recovery from illness.
Prevention and control
Good outbreak control relies on applying a package of interventions, namely case management, surveillance and contact tracing, a good laboratory service, safe burials and social mobilization. Community engagement is key to successfully controlling outbreaks. Raising awareness of risk factors for Ebola infection and protective measures that individuals can take is an effective way to reduce human transmission. Risk reduction messaging should focus on several factors:
- Reducing the risk of animal-to-human transmission from contact with infected fruit bats or monkeys/apes and the consumption of their raw meat. Animals should be handled with gloves and other appropriate protective clothing. Although the risk of transmission is low, the pets of individuals who have been exposed or who have contracted the disease should also be tested and handled with caution.
- Reducing the risk of human-to-human transmission from direct or close contact with people with Ebola symptoms, particularly with their bodily fluids. Gloves and appropriate personal protective equipment should be worn when taking care of ill patients at home. Regular hand washing is required after visiting patients in hospital, as well as after taking care of patients at home.
- Outbreak containment measures including prompt and safe burial of the dead, identifying people who may have been in contact with someone infected with Ebola, monitoring the health of contacts for 21 days, the importance of separating the healthy from the sick to prevent further spread, the importance of good hygiene and maintaining a clean environment.
Click here to read the full Urban League Ebola Virus Disease Resource Sheet