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Ebola Q and A: Here’s what you need to know

Posted at 1:25 PM, Oct 09, 2014

NEW YORK — The first person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States has died. In Spain, authorities euthanized an Ebola patient’s dog because of the slim chance it could spread the disease. And now some U.S. airports are taking the temperatures of passengers arriving from countries where Ebola is concentrated. Should you be alarmed? The following questions and answers will give you the latest information on the deadly virus and what’s being done to stop its spread.

With the first Ebola death in the U.S., should I be worried?

Ebola is actually very difficult to catch. You would only be at risk if you came into very close contact with the blood, feces, semen, vomit or soiled clothing of an Ebola patient, or if you had traveled to the impacted areas in West Africa and came into contact with someone who had Ebola. In the United States at this time, only the people who came into contact with Thomas Eric Duncan — the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola on U.S. soil, who has since died — are being monitored to see if they develop symptoms of the disease.

Why are some U.S. airports taking people’s temperatures, then?

Out of an abundance of caution, five of America’s biggest and busiest airports are going to do special screenings — including taking the temperature of anyone who has come from an Ebola-affected country — to keep the disease from spreading further in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is going to monitor travelers for any sign of illness and will ask a series of questions about their exposure to Ebola patients. Travelers with symptoms will be isolated and those who are symptom-free will get information about how to watch for possible signs of the virus. Authorities at the UK’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports, as well as Eurostar railway terminals, also will begin screening passengers arriving from Ebola-affected Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, a government spokesman said Thursday.

Why should they watch for symptoms and what are they?

It can take up to 21 days for symptoms of Ebola to appear, but the CDC says the average is 8-10 days. So a traveler could have been exposed to Ebola and not know that they are sick yet. Symptoms that the CDC will watch for include fever, severe headache, muscle pain, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, unexplained bleeding and stomach pain.

How did this outbreak start?

It probably started with a 2-year old patient in a village in Guinea. The toddler died December 6, 2013, according to a report published in The New England Journal of Medicine. Scientists don’t know how the toddler got it, but it can spread from animals to humans through infected bodily fluids. It has been spread through infected chimps, gorillas, monkeys, fruit bats, porcupines, and forest antelope, according to the World Health Organization.

Is that why Spanish officials euthanized an Ebola patient’s dog?

Health officials in Madrid were concerned that the dog, Excalibur, might carry the virus because its owner — a nurse’s aide who treated an Ebola patient in Spain — was diagnosed with the disease. Despite a “Save Excalibur” petition campaign, which was signed by about 400,000 people, the dog was put to sleep.

Should I worry about my own dog?

There were a number of questions posted to #CDCchat from people worried about their dogs and Ebola. Studies on a dog-to-human transmission of the virus are not conclusive. In the 2001-2002 outbreak in Gabon, scientists found signs of the virus in 25% of the dogs living near the outbreak. The animals were not symptomatic, nor did they die during the time the scientists were studying them.

“The only conclusion that may be safely drawn from this study is that the animals encountered Ebola virus (and their immune systems responded),” Margaret H. Gilbert, a clinical veterinarian and assistant professor of medicine at Tulane National Primate Research Center, wrote in an email to CNN. “Whether or not dogs shed Ebola once their immune systems encounter it remains to be seen.”

“Asymptomatically infected dogs could be a potential source of human Ebola outbreaks,” scientists who studied the 2001 outbreak wrote.

The CDC is working with the American Veterinary Medical Association and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop guidance for the U.S. pet population, but the CDC assures us the likelihood that U.S. pets will pass Ebola on to Americans is very slim.

What if I have a cat?

The Ebola virus has been found in other animals, but to date there have been no documented infections in cats. So yours should be fine.

What countries have been impacted by the Ebola virus?

West Africa is still the hotspot, with Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone having the most number of cases. Nigeria and Senegal have a small number of cases. Spain and now the United States each have one confirmed case. The current outbreak is considered the largest in world history — with 8,033 known cases and 3,865 deaths due to Ebola.

Is there a cure?

Not yet, but scientists are scrambling to find one. A drug called ZMapp was given to the two Americans who contracted the disease in Liberia and were brought to Emory University in Atlanta for treatment in August. They recovered fully and the medication seemed to play a role in that recovery, but there are no more doses of that drug. The U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency has provided funding to Mapp Biopharmaceutical so it can conduct more early-stage clinical trials on the drug right now.

A drug called TKM-Ebola was used on another American patient who was treated in Nebraska, Dr. Richard Sacra. That drug, manufactured by Tekmira Pharmaceuticals, showed some promise and the FDA gave it a fast track designation to speed up the testing process. The biopharmaceutical company Chimerix got approval for the emergency use of its drug, Brincidofovir, for Duncan in Texas. He did not get the experimental medicine immediately.

The National Institutes of Health also started human testing on a vaccine in early September, and another vaccine developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada — licensed to Iowa-based NewLink Genetics — is about to start clinical trials.

How many more people will get sick?

The CDC predicts as many as 550,000 to 1.4 million people could be infected with Ebola by January. That calculation was based on figures from September, before the United States sent additional help to West Africa. The CDC estimates that if 70% of the people with Ebola are cared for properly, the epidemic could decrease and eventually end.