National and international health authorities are currently working to control a large, ongoing outbreak of Ebola involving areas in West Africa. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers this map of the affected areas. All cases of human illness or death have occurred in Africa; no case has been reported in the United States.
Ebola hemorrhagic fever is a rare and deadly disease. The disease is native to several African countries and is caused by infection with one of the ebolaviruses (Ebola, Sudan, Bundibugyo, or Taï Forest virus). It is spread by direct contact with a sick person’s blood or body fluids. It is also spread by contact with contaminated objects or infected animals.
The incubation period for Ebola HF is usually 8–10 days, but could potentially range from 2–21 days. The risk for person-to-person transmission of hemorrhagic fever viruses is greatest during the latter stages of illness when viral loads are highest. Ebola is not transmissible during the incubation period (i.e., before onset of fever).
Symptoms include fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, sore throat, and weakness, followed by diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain. Skin rash, red eyes and internal and external bleeding may be seen in some patients.
Ebola hemorrhagic fever (HF) should be suspected in febrile persons who, within 3 weeks before onset of fever, have either:
- Traveled in the specific local area of a country where Ebola HF has recently occurred;
- Had direct unprotected contact with blood, other body fluids, secretions, or excretions of a person with Ebola HF; or
- Had a possible exposure when working in a laboratory that handles Ebola HF viruses.
Clinicians caring for patients meeting these criteria should immediately implement isolation precautions and contact their local health department or the state Communicable Disease Branch (919-733-3419; available 24/7) to discuss laboratory testing and control measures.