Understanding Ebola

What exactly is Ebola, how do you get it, and what are the symptoms? The House Call Doctor answers your questions.

Sanaz Majd, MD
Episode #163

What Are the Symptoms of Ebola?

What’s worse, Ebola often causes very vague symptoms that can be attributed to many other illnesses and health conditions.  Depending on the involved organs, Ebola can cause the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Malaise
  • General weakness
  • Decreased appetite
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Rash that is diffuse (meaning, it spans multiple areas of the body)
  • Pink eye
  • Hiccups
  • Seizures
  • Bruising
  • Bleeding
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain

Displayed symptoms can take 2 to 21 days to appear after exposure, but they more often come up within 5-7 days. 

How is Ebola Contracted?

Ebola is transmitted via exchange of bodily fluids from animals or humans that have been infected with the Ebola virus. This includes contact with infected:

  • Blood
  • Feces
  • Vomit
  • Urine
  • Sweat
  • Semen
  • Saliva
  • Needles or non-sterilized medical equipment
  • Contact with blood or fluids of infected animal meat

It is not an airborne illness--so you cannot contract it by breathing the same air as someone infected with it (in contrast to the common cold or flu viruses.) Most people who contract the virus will tell you that they remember caring for someone who was ill. 

If Ebola is suspected, a blood test can be used to confirm the diagnosis.

How is Ebola Treated?

One of the greatest challenges with Ebola is that there is no cure. Like many other viruses, once contracted, it needs to run its course. Also, like other viruses, it requires certain supportive measures to mitigate its effects while it runs its course--like providing IV fluids, controlling the bleeding and low blood pressures, fever control, maintaining oxygenation, etc.  

No specific treatment for Ebola currently exists, but several investigational drugs are under development. There also is no available vaccine, but is currently in developmental phases, as well. Just remember this: it’s not very realistic for such a virus to spread as rapidly in developed countries like the U.S., no matter how much drama and fear the media likes to create.

It’s important to learn about what’s going on in the rest of the world, and it is truly heartbreaking to watch West Africans suffer in this tragic way. But at the same time, I think it's our job as health care providers to provide honest, non-biased medical information so we can place it all into more realistic context.  

And it may be wise to avoid the thriller films, if you find yourself seriously disturbed to the point of insomnia, too!

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Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only.  This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider.  Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.

Photos of Virus sign, Ebola magnified, and virus courtesy of Shutterstock.


About the Author

Sanaz Majd, MD

Dr. Sanaz Majd, a board-certified Family Medicine physician who graduated from Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. She sees everything from pediatrics to geriatrics, but her special interests are women's health and patient education. She also loves to teach, and has been doing so since her college days.

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