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Ebola hemorrhagic fever

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Ebola virus
Ebola virus

Alternative Names    Return to top

Ebola virus infection; Viral hemorrhagic fever

Definition    Return to top

Ebola hemorrhagic fever is a severe and often deadly illness that can occur in humans and in primates (monkeys, gorillas).

Ebola hemorrhagic fever has made worldwide news because of its destructive potential.

Causes    Return to top

Ebola hemorrhagic fever (Ebola fever) is caused by a virus belonging to the family called Filoviridae. Scientists have identified four types of the Ebola virus. Three have been reported to cause disease in humans: Ebola-Zaire virus; Ebola-Sudan virus; and the Ebola-Ivory virus. The human disease has so far been limited to parts of Africa.

The disease has so far been limited to parts of Africa. A very small number of people in the United States who were infected with the fourth type of the virus, known as Ebola Reston, did not develop any signs of disease.

The disease can be passed to humans from infected animals and animal materials. Ebola can also be spread between humans by close contact with infected bodily fluids or through infected needles in the hospital.

Symptoms    Return to top

During the incubation period, which can last about 1 week, symptoms include:

Late symptoms include:

As many as 90% of patients die from the disease. Patients usually die from shock rather than from blood loss.

Exams and Tests    Return to top

There may be signs and symptoms of:

Tests used to diagnose Ebola fever include:

Treatment    Return to top

There is no known cure. Existing medicines that fight viruses (antivirals) do not work well against this virus.

The patient is usually hospitalized and will most likely need intensive care. Supportive measures for shock include medications and fluids given through a vein.

Bleeding problems may require transfusions of platelets or fresh blood.

Outlook (Prognosis)    Return to top

As many as 90% of patients die from the disease. Patients usually die from shock rather than blood loss.

Possible Complications    Return to top

Survivors may have unusual problems, such as hair loss and sensory changes.

When to Contact a Medical Professional    Return to top

Call your health care provider if you have traveled to Africa (or if you know you have been exposed to Ebola fever) and you develop symptoms of the disorder. Early diagnosis and treatment may help improve the chances of survival.

Prevention    Return to top

Avoid areas in which there are epidemics. Wear a gown, gloves, and mask around sick patients. These precautions will greatly decrease the risk of transmission.

Update Date: 1/22/2008

Updated by: Kenneth M. Wener, MD, Department of Infectious Diseases, Lahey Clinic, Burlington, MA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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