5 Myths About Ebola

Ebola virus

The recent outbreak of Ebola in West Africa and the return of several infected Americans have led to a plethora of public misconceptions about the disease. This has caused fear, speculation and the inevitable spread of false rumors. Here are five of the most common myths about Ebola debunked to set the record straight.

Myth #1: Allowing Americans with known or suspected Ebola to re-enter the country could cause an outbreak on our soil.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has strong safety measures in place to screen, identify, quarantine and treat known or suspected cases of Ebola both in American citizens returning from travel and in those arriving from countries affected by the epidemic. Both infected American Medical Missionary workers were released from the facilities where they were treated only because they were cured of the disease.

Myth #2: There is no treatment available for the disease.
Although there is no known drug therapy to treat Ebola, patients can and should be treated with aggressive medical support including good nutrition and hydration, management of resulting infections, maintaining blood pressure and adjusting electrolyte imbalances. Companies in the US are working on drugs to treat the illness and vaccines to prevent infection. These treatments are still experimental and won’t be ready for large-scale use in the near future.

Myth #3: Everyone who gets Ebola dies.
Although a high percentage of infected people in Africa have died (from 50 to 90%), many lack access to health-care services and facilities. As I mentioned above, it’s likely that basic medical support could dramatically improve the chances of survival from Ebola. Part of its deadliness is related to the poverty of the people it tends to infect. Additionally, taboos and cultural misunderstanding of the cause of the illness can delay diagnosis and treatment.

Myth #4: You might catch Ebola at an airport or on an airplane where people from infected countries travel.
Ebola is not spread by casual contact or inhalation. It is transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids from of an infected person. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is highly unlikely that someone infected with the virus during the contagious phase would be well enough to travel and even if they were, just being in the plane with them would not be enough to become infected. Ebola has spread rapidly in West Africa because of poor hygiene and sanitation, ignorance of disinfecting practices and infection control protocols, and religious and cultural customs related to death and burial that have increased the avoidable spread of the disease. Most people who contracted Ebola in Africa had been directly caring for others with the virus.

Myth #5: Previously infected survivors still carry the virus and can pass it on.
Once a person has recovered and is declared virus-free, they can no longer infect other people. According to WHO, those afflicted with Ebola are contagious only during the symptomatic phase (fever, headaches, vomiting, diarrhea), but they caution that men who have had Ebola may still be able transmit the virus via their semen for up to two months after being sick.

For additional information, visit the World Health Organization’s FAQ on Ebola.