Misconceptions About Ebola

Ebola outbreak in West Africa has sparked debate and rumors

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

With the World Health Organization (WHO) recently naming the Ebola outbreak in West Africa an international public health emergency, speculation about the virus has run wild on the Internet and in other forums.

Ebola is a virus that causes Ebola virus disease, which can have a fatality rate as high as 90 percent, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The virus's origins are unknown, but scientists have speculated that outbreaks usually begin with infected animals like monkeys.

Despite numerous official statements from WHO, the CDC and other health organizations, there are many misconceptions about Ebola. The following are some of those misconceptions.

Ebola Is Airborne

Despite what doomsday forecasters may say, you can't get Ebola from the air — or water or food, for that matter.

The only way to contract Ebola is by coming in contact with infected bodily fluids, the CDC reports. Bodily fluids that can spread the Ebola virus include blood, saliva and urine.

If an object like a needle or other medical instrument has been exposed to an Ebola patient's bodily fluids, that object can also spread the virus.

Even physical contact won't spread Ebola as long as the uninfected person doesn't come into contact with the infected person's bodily fluids.

Recommended Ebola prevention methods are similar to those of many other viruses — wash your hands regularly and don't touch an infected person.

Infected People Spray Blood

The former name of Ebola virus disease was Ebola hemorrhagic fever.

Hemorrhaging (veins or arteries rupturing and bleeding) evokes a nightmarish image of blood spraying from every orifice — which may be why TV and movies portray Ebola like this so often.

While Ebola is certainly deadly, external bleeding only happens in some Ebola cases, according to WHO. And blood doesn't spray from infected patients' bodies.

Visible Ebola symptoms include a sudden, acute fever, vomiting and diarrhea. Medical testing can reveal less visible symptoms like kidney and liver damage and a lowered white blood cell count.

Bringing Infected Americans Back for Treatment Will Cause an Outbreak

When a man with high fever who had recently visited West Africa stepped through the doors of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, fears of an Ebola outbreak in the US ran high.

Mount Sinai has since announced that the man did not have Ebola, but the two American health care workers in Africa who recently returned to the US for treatment did — and their return sparked some debate about the safety of purposefully bringing the virus into the country.

As of publication time, though, the American patients were alive. Ebola may not be as fatal as it once was, said Donald Allegra, MD, chair of Infection Control and Pharmacy/Therapeutics at Newton Medical Center in Newton, NJ.

"It was previously thought that this disease was almost universally fatal but now with our two Americans in Atlanta doing better and only about 55 percent mortality overall, significant numbers of patients are surviving and it would be interesting to know what the factors are that are helping many patients to survive," Dr. Allegra told dailyRx News.

While an outbreak could technically happen anywhere, it's less likely in the US than in developing nations like Sierra Leone and Liberia, said Dr. Daniel Bausch in an interview with Voice of America.

Many of the hospitals in the heart of the Ebola outbreak area — including West African countries Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria — are stretched too thin when it comes to medical supplies, medicines and health care workers, making containment of the virus more difficult.

In contrast, the man at Mount Sinai Hospital was immediately put into quarantine and under constant medical care until he was cleared.

Ebola Is Curable

Currently, there is no vaccination or cure for Ebola. Despite this fact, rumors and myths about Ebola cures abound.

WHO lists a few practices that have been falsely labeled as cures for Ebola. These include eating raw onions, drinking condensed milk and taking antibiotics, which fight bacteria, not viruses like Ebola.

One treatment, however, is showing some promise, but its effectiveness has not been confirmed. The medicine is known as ZMapp, and it is supposed to block Ebola from spreading in the body.

Before the two American Ebola patients opted for the experimental treatment, the only tests researchers had conducted with it were on animals.

Ebola Has Spread to the US

Although CDC officials believe Ebola spreading to the US is likely in the future, they also say it will not be a large outbreak. CDC Director Tom Frieden cited airline travel as the culprit in the spread of the virus across continents.

"We are all connected and inevitably there will be travelers, American citizens and others who go from [West Africa] and are here with symptoms," he told Business Insider. "But we are confident that there will not be a large Ebola outbreak in the US."

However, the only American to have died from Ebola in the current outbreak so far was in West Africa at the time of his infection.

Review Date: 
August 8, 2014