4 Things You Should Know About The Ebola Outbreak

Personal Health

As the Ebola virus spreads through west Africa, there's a lot of information and misinformation spreading through the media. Here's what you should know:

1. This outbreak is much worse than previously thought. The World Health Organization says that 887 people have died of this latest Ebola outbreak, but doctors in the field say that the death toll may be much higher. One physician told CBS News said that the disease is starting to spin out of control in Africa because it's beginning to spread to urban areas, such as the Liberian capital of Monrovia, where it’s harder to contain. Doctors also report that the WHO figure is a low estimate, as many cases are being unreported.

2. Even if an Ebola case shows up here, it doesn’t mean we’re doomed. It’s possible that with the high rate of international air travel, that some cases might spread across borders or even overseas. Still, if an infected person were to show up in someplace like Great Britain or the United States, much would depend on how quickly and thoroughly the case is investigated and how prepared our regional and national health systems are at stopping the spread of the virus.

Both Ebola experts and the Centers for Disease control say it is highly unlikely there would be a full-scale outbreak in the U.S. "It's not going to spread widely in the U.S.,” CDC director Tom Frieden told CBS News. “Could we have another person here, could we have a case or two? Not impossible. We say in medicine never say never. But we know how to stop it here.”

3. Ebola is survivable. While some of the deadlier strains of Ebola, such as the Zaire strain, kill up to 90% of its victims, this outbreak seems, at this time, to be less fatal. Disease control workers are reporting that the survival rate has been about 40%. The chances of surviving depend on many factors, however, including early detection and treatment. Those that have fared the best, say experts got early supportive care to prevent dehydration. There is no treatment for the virus itself other than an experimental drug.

Right now, that drug is being used to treat two American aid workers who have been infected with the virus. It has never been tested on humans before and was only identified this year as part of an U.S. government and military research program. The drug is said to boost the immune systems efforts to fight off the virus. It is made from antibodies produced by lab animals exposed to parts of the virus.

4. Ebola has not gone airborne, say researchers. With the news of the swift spread of the Ebola virus, comes a lot of worries that the virus has mutated and can be spread through the air. Some news sites have pointed to some Canadian research that indicates that the virus may spread between species through the air or water droplets.

In 2012, a research team observed the transmission between the virus from pigs to monkeys, although these animals did not have direct contact with each other.  The researchers infected a number of piglets with the deadly Zaire strain of the virus. The piglets were then put in a room with four macaques, although the animals were separated by wire cages to prevent direct contact. After the pigs became ill (and later recovered), all four monkeys became sick with the virus. But while the study was the first to indicate transmission of Ebola between species, researchers are not sure how the transmission occurred. It could have been spread through the air, droplets, or through fomites, which are inanimate objects that can transmit disease if they are contaminated with infectious agents. So, in that study, it is possible that workers in the room transferred the virus to the monkeys' cages after cleaning the piglets' cages. However, some researchers believe that droplets are the likely mode of transmission.

Researchers caution that we should not jump to conclusions that the virus has suddenly gone airborne between humans. First, it is virus that slowly mutates. Also, since human Ebola outbreaks have been locally contained events in the past, it’s not likely that Ebola can spread between humans via airborne transmission.

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