Updated: October 1, 2014 at 12:18 pm
Lately, I've been flooded with media inquiries about Ebola. I'm sure you've read the headlines: Africa is having an unprecedented outbreak of this horrible disease. Here are my answers to the most common questions.
1) What is Ebola, and why is it so feared?
It's a virus, found in Africa, that causes high fever, diarrhea and vomiting, plus bleeding that can't be stopped. Past outbreaks have killed anywhere from 25 percent to 90 percent of those infected. This time, the mortality rate has ranged from 60 percent to 90 percent, depending on the region and which of the five known strains is prevalent.
2) How is it spread?
Through contact with infected bodily fluids. It's thought that bats can carry the virus but not get sick. They spread it to monkeys, which do fall ill. Villagers are infected by handling the infected or poorly cooked meat. Some also keep monkeys for pets.
Most sick people are cared for at home, exposing caregivers, too. Health facilities are scarce. Many clinics lack even basic protective equipment, like gloves and goggles, so the workers are exposed.
In addition, a body is usually prepared for burial by friends and family members. The Ebola virus can live in the fluids of the deceased for an unknown length of time.
3) Why is the current outbreak unprecedented?
Past outbreaks have been localized to one small region. This one, though, has spread to several areas throughout Africa and into large cities. The theory is that people travel to funerals or are exposed in some other way but don't know they're infected. It takes between two and 21 days to develop symptoms. They go back to their hometowns, get sick and the cycle continues.
4) What bodily fluids are we talking about?
Blood, diarrhea, vomit, semen and probably sweat. One of these must make direct contact with your skin and find a crack for the virus to enter the body, or the virus can enter through a mucous membrane, such in the mouth, rectum, vagina or possibly the eye or nose.
5) Is Ebola spread through the air?
Despite speculation, as of this writing, Ebola has not been shown to spread through the air.
6) Is Ebola truly only an airplane ride away from the United States, as the headlines say?
An individual case? Yes. A widespread outbreak? No. It's not unlikely an infected person will travel before getting symptoms and come down with the illness here. But if that happens, unlike in Africa, a really sick person will end up at a health care facility. And if they or a close contact has been to Africa within 30 days, they'll immediately be isolated. And anyone who's had close contact with them will be diligently watched for symptoms.
The infection at worst will be contained to a few people. As long as there's no contact with bodily fluids, casual contact such as traveling on the same plane, even sitting next to someone, carries no known risk.
7) What can we do to protect ourselves?
The same thing you should be doing anyway. Who knows what infections we're exposed to each day? Wash your hands periodically and before eating. Stay updated about increased risk for any disease in your area or where you're traveling. Take care of your immune system by eating healthfully, exercising, etc. It's your best friend against any infection.
Check out the Ebola post on my website, thesurvivaldoctor.com, for more details.
Colorado Springs family doctor James Hubbard is the author of several books including "Duct Tape 911: The Many Amazing Medical Things You Can Do to Tape Yourself Together." The book can be found in select Ace Hardware stores and at
PostalAnnex+ on South Academy Boulevard.