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Is Ebola HF America's new 'black plague?'

Ebola hemorrhagic fever (Ebola HF) is one of a variety of Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers. VHF's cause bleeding inside and outside the body. First identified in 1976, it is a severe, often fatal disease in humans and non-human primates such as monkeys, gorillas and chimpanzees, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A man in Africa is being treated for Ebola virus.
©2014 Associated Press (AP)

In 2014, two Americans, including a medical physician, were infected with Ebola virus and Liberia's lead Ebola doctor also died from the virus. In the past, several laboratory contamination cases (one in England and two in Russia) occurred.

This affliction has taken a heavy toll in lives – 1,323 infected in the July 2014 outbreak, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Of those infected, 729 had died, boosting the fatality rate of this outbreak to nearly 60 percent.

The virus is transmitted through contact with blood or bodily fluid secretions from a person with Ebola. Contamination can occur directly through human or sexual contact, through contaminated surfaces, needles or medical equipment. A patient is not contagious until they start showing signs of the disease. Fortunately, the virus is not airborne and can't be transmitted through the air people breathe.

In the 2014 outbreak alone, more than 100 health workers have been infected and at least 50 of them have died, according to the WHO and ABC News. Researchers are working to develop a vaccine, however there is none as of August 2014.

Signs and Symptoms

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

Some patients may experience:

  • A rash
  • Red eyes
  • Hiccups
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Bleeding inside and outside the body (hemorrhaging)

Symptoms may appear as early as two to 21 days after exposure to Ebola virus though 8 – 10 days is most common. Some people are able to fully recover from the virus while others develop a significant immune response to the virus and die.

Risk of Exposure

The CDC reports the U.S. cases are related to those who traveled to certain regions of Africa. Confirmed cases have been reported in:

  • Guinea
  • Liberia
  • Sierra Leone
  • Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
  • Gabon
  • South Sudan
  • Ivory Coast
  • Uganda
  • Republic of the Congo (ROC)
  • South Africa (imported)

Treatment

As of 2014, very little could be done to treat Ebola HF because the disease is difficult to diagnose in the early stages of infection. Many times, cases of Ebola virus have been initially diagnosed as other, routine afflictions such as migraine headaches and other ailments. If caught early enough, supportive therapy can be affective such as:

  • Balancing the patient’s fluids and electrolytes
  • Maintaining their oxygen status and blood pressure
  • Treating them for any complicating infections

For more information, please visit the websites highlighted in this article or contact your local doctor or medical center. Or call the CDC in Atlanta at (800) CDC-INFO. TTY (888) 232-6348.

Author's Note: The reference to the "Black Plague" is used in relation to the Bubonic plague and is absolutely NOT related to a race or group of people. After receiving feedback on the subject, I felt it my duty to add this to the article.