Ebola is a rare but fatal hemorrhagic fever caused by the Ebola virus. There have been multiple outbreaks of this virus from as early as 1976, but this year has seen the highest number of deaths from the virus. Currently, the CDC reports about 5,000 people have died from this virus in this year alone. This dramatic increase has led to a slight panic and paranoia worldwide.

There is some comfort in the fact that the Ebola virus is spread only through the blood or bodily fluids of an infected person or animal. It is not spread through food, water or air. Currently the most widespread cases are in the West African nations of Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. Based on these facts, it might seem disorienting that the virus could have made it to all the way to the United States. After all, the symptoms of the virus include sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, vomiting, diarrhea and in some cases both internal and external bleeding. Consequently, an infected patient would have a difficult time traveling.

However, the first patients treated for the Ebola virus in the United States were two doctors working for aid groups in Liberia. Dr. Brantly and Dr. Writebol were administered an experimental treatment called ZMapp. It works by binding to the virus and helping the immune system recognize it as an infected agent, ultimately eradicating the virus. They were then flown to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia and were later released, Ebola-free.

Perhaps the most famous case of Ebola in the United States is Thomas Eric Duncan, who came to the United States from Liberia to visit his family. On September 26, he went to Texas Presbyterian Health Hospital in Dallas because he had a fever, but he was sent home with antibiotics and Tylenol. A couple days later he returns to the hospital, is diagnosed with Ebola, and is isolated. Duncan later died in the same hospital. However, that was not the end of the story. It was later found that two nurses, Pham and Vinson, were exposed to the virus while treating Duncan. Vinson took a commercial airline from Cleveland to Dallas while she was experiencing a fever. This led to a slight panic due to the large number of people on that flight that could have been exposed to the virus. She was then taken to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital where she was diagnosed with Ebola and subsequently flown to Emory University Hospital. Both nurses were treated with blood plasma transfusions from Dr. Brantly and Dr. Writebol and were released 13 days after diagnosis (Kroll).

So far, every person infected with the disease in the United States has been treated and is now virus-free. If you are still worried about protecting yourself or others, Dr. Goldschmidt (Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine) offers three suggestions: 1. Don’t travel to countries in West Africa affecting by the Ebola virus, for academic or personal reasons, unless it is absolutely unavoidable 2. Wash your hands often 3. Get a flu shot because Ebola training is a precaution, but the flu is a certainty and it kills at least 3,000 Americans every year.

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