Ebola is a viral hemorrhagic fever that is often fatal in humans. Researchers are unsure of the exact origin of the virus, but they believe it was first transmitted by an animal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ebola first surfaced in 1976 in outbreaks in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The virus is transmitted through direct contact with the blood or bodily fluids of an infected individual showing symptoms, or through exposure to objects, such as needles, that have been contaminated. Ebola cannot be transmitted through air, water or food.
Those at highest risk include health care workers and the family and friends of someone who is infected.
Ebola typically has an incubation period of 21 days before symptoms present; however, according to the CDC, symptoms often appear as early as 2 to 8 days after infection. If someone is suspected of having Ebola, the person should be isolated and public health officials should be notified immediately.
Ebola is lethal in the majority of cases; however, certain people are immune to the virus, and a small percentage of patients who contract Ebola end up making a full recovery. Why some people are able to fight off the virus and others are not remains unknown. Treatment is limited to supportive care, including monitoring the patient's body temperature and fluid intake, maintaining optimal blood pressure, and treating infections and other complications caused by the virus.
Pharmaceutical companies have been working to develop a vaccine along with experimental drugs to treat patients with Ebola. The drugs have yet to complete clinical trials and are still pending FDA approval.
For more information on Ebola, visit the CDC website.