I know it’s a little scary. If you’ve been watching the news, you know that the outbreak of hemorrhagic fever known as Ebola has been working over time in West Africa and two more American Ebola victims were brought to the U.S. for treatment just a few weeks ago. This  might leave you with more than a few questions about the virus–how is it spread? How deadly is it? Could it spread to the United States? Let’s try to answer some of these questions so you can better understand Ebola and how to protect yourself and your family.

What is Ebola?

Basically, Ebola is a virus that usually starts 8-10 days after contact with another infected person, but in some cases it can take three weeks to see symptoms. Symptoms usually start like the flu with body aches, fever and fatigue and then progresses to severe vomiting and diarrhea. As the virus progresses, most of its victims will begin to bleed (that’s why it’s called  hemorrhagic) internally and externally from the mouth, ears or nose for example. Ebola kills between 50 and 90% of those who get the virus.

How is Ebola spread?

This is the tricky part about Ebola. The virus is spread through direct contact with the blood or bodily fluids of an infected person. And because the early symptoms are more like the flu than a deadly virus, many people aren’t aware of what’s going on and don’t take the proper precautions against its spread.  This allows the virus to move freely between families and even entire villages before anyone realizes what’s happened.

Can Ebola be treated? Is there a cure?

There’s no direct cure for Ebola yet. The patients being treated at Emory University here in the U.S. did receive an experimental treatment and it has been shown to help the condition but it’s supply has been exhausted and making more will take many months. If Ebola is contracted, the most doctors can do is support the body with IV fluids, control vomiting and diarrhea, offer IV medications to support blood pressure if bleeding occurs, and try to stabilize the patient as much as possible. It’s not an easy task.

Could Ebola come to the United States?

Yes it’s possible, but healthcare experts say there’s no reason to panic. International travel is still going strong and because the virus can incubate in the body for several weeks, travelers may not even know they are sick and carry the virus around the globe. Experts say there’s less concern for us in the U.S. because while the disease is very infectious–meaning it makes you really sick if you get it–it’s harder to catch than you might think. You can read more about it’s potential risk in the U.S. from this CNN report.

Have I scared you? I hope not. Knowledge is power. The  more you know, the more you can do to protect yourself and not panic.

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