The Ebola virus is one of several viruses in the world that cause hemorrhagic fever, or fever and other symptoms accompanied by bleeding.
In its early stages, however, symptoms of Ebola are often mild and easily confused with other illnesses that cause fever, according to the (CDC).
That makes it extremely important to know whether a person with symptoms has been in contact with someone known to be infected with Ebola, or in a geographic area where there is currently an Ebola outbreak.
Even having visited an area where Ebola is endemic may raise suspicions that a person with fever and general malaise may have Ebola.
Symptoms of Ebola usually begin anywhere between 2 and 21 days after exposure to the Ebola virus, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The early signs and symptoms of Ebola may be mild and nonspecific:
- Low fever
- Mild queasiness or feeling of being ill
Diagnosis on the basis of early symptoms is not possible, but if a doctor suspects that a person may have Ebola, the person should be isolated to prevent transmission to others, and blood samples can be taken to determine if Ebola virus infection is the cause of their symptoms.
As the Ebola virus replicates in the person's body, its effects become much more severe and possibly fatal.
The advanced signs and symptoms of Ebola infection include:
- High fever
- Muscle aches
- Abdominal pain
- Bleeding from the eyes, ears, gums, nose, rectum, and internal organs
- Bruising of the skin, indicating internal bleeding
- Organ failure (e.g., kidney, respiratory, or liver failure)
- Low blood pressure
At the worst stage of the illness, patients can lose 5 to 10 quarts of fluid a day through vomiting and diarrhea.
Mainstays of Ebola treatment therefore include the administration of intravenous fluids and electrolyte replacement to prevent dehydration.
A person who has advanced symptoms of Ebola is highly infectious, and healthcare workers must take extraordinary precautions to avoid coming into contact with the person's blood or bodily fluids.
The recorded death rates from Ebola outbreaks occurring before the 2014 outbreak have been high, ranging from 50 to 90 percent, depending on which strain of the virus was involved in the outbreak.
Those who die from Ebola generally do so within one to two weeks of developing symptoms.
Among those who survive, recovery can take about two to four weeks, and the virus can remain active in certain bodily fluids and tissues for months.
Video: Ebola Virus - medical staff education
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