Fast Facts: What you should know about the Ebola outbreak

September 30, 2014

Thousands of people have died from the Ebola outbreak currently spreading through West African nations, making it the largest outbreak of the disease on record, and on September 30, 2014, the CDC announced the first case diagnosed in the United States. With no known cure or vaccine, fears of further spread are escalating across the globe. We sat down with infectious disease expert Dr. Scott Lillibridge to find out more on the deadly disease and risk of its reaching epidemic proportions in the U.S.

Scott Lillibridge

Scott Lillibridge, M.D., assistant dean and professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health.

Q: How is the Ebola virus spread?
A: The Ebola virus is spread from person to person through direct contact with body fluids of infected individuals. Strict hospital infection control measures are needed to reduce the spread from sick individuals in health care settings.

Q: What are the symptoms?
A: Ebola symptoms include fever, severe weakness, muscle pain, diarrhea, vomiting, headache, lack of appetite, stomach pain and sore throat. Patients may also experience a rash, red eyes, chest pain, difficulty breathing and swallowing, and both internal and external bleeding. Symptoms most commonly begin eight to 10 days after exposure to the virus.

Q: With no known cure, how is Ebola treated?
A: Treatment is generally supportive and is directed at alleviating symptoms and supporting the body’s normal functions through fluids, oxygen and measures to control bleeding and secondary infections. Patients with Ebola require strict isolation and vigorous hospital infection control measures to prevent medical staff from becoming ill.

Q: What is the likelihood of an Ebola outbreak in the United States now that a case has been confirmed in Dallas, Texas?
A: The first step in any infectious outbreak requires implementation of proper infection control measures. Industrialized countries, including the United States, have the public health infrastructure in place to reduce the possibility of rampant disease transmission. By isolating patients who have become ill and implementing public health measures such as disease tracking and education to help identify and ensure the early reporting of new cases, medical and health authorities can limit exposure within the population.

Q: How can these types of outbreaks be controlled or eliminated?
A: Outbreaks, such as Ebola, can be controlled. Patients who have become ill are put in isolation to reduce the possibility of disease transmission to other individuals. In addition, public health measures such as disease tracking and education help identify and ensure the early reporting of new cases so medical and public health authorities can prevent further disease transmission within the population.

Q: Are average citizens responsible for letting germs spread?
A: Ebola can be highly contagious if common infection control measures are not instituted. Humans usually contract the disease through exposure to bodily fluids such as blood from infected individuals. Once vigorous infection control measures such as isolation and the use of personal protective equipment such as gowns, gloves, respiratory and eye protection are utilized, disease transmission from infected individuals decreases substantially.


Scott Lillibridge, M.D., is assistant dean and professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health and deputy principal investigator and chief scientist for the Texas A&M Center for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing. Dr. Lillibridge is a 30-year veteran in medical and public health preparedness who previously served as founding director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Program and also worked as Special Assistant to the Secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dr. Lillibridge served as Medical Director of the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance during the Ebola outbreak in the 1990s in Africa. He currently serves on the Institute of Medicine’s Health Threats Resilience Committee, offering expertise in refugee health and civil conflict, biodefense and bioterrorism, public health preparedness and response, and global health and development.

— Holly Shive

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