Cue the nightmares: There’s a new Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Before your doom-spiral, slow it way down—this outbreak is still in its infancy (as compared to the 2014 outbreak in West Africa, which spread to seven additional countries, including Italy, the U.K., and the U.S., infecting more than 28,000 people, and killing more than 11,000, according to the CDC).
Still, the current outbreak is concerning for a number of reasons; here’s what you need to know about the latest threat:
Where is Ebola, like, right now?
The outbreak started in remote, rural parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo in April, according to the World Health Organization. Since then, there have been three confirmed cases and more than 40 probable or suspected cases, and 23 people have died, as the New York Times reports.
What’s worrisome right now is that the first case of “urban” Ebola was reported in the port city of Mbandaka, the provincial capital and home to more than one million people. Ebola’s arrival in Mbandaka marks this outbreak’s first case in a major city, which makes the disease harder to contain, increasing the risk of Ebola moving into neighboring countries.
Rewind: I need an Ebola refresher.
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out, Ebola, a.k.a. Ebola haemorrhagic fever, is spread either by direct contact with an infected animal (bats and primates) or someone who is sick or has died from the virus.
After infection, symptoms begin to show anywhere from two to 21 days (FYI: humans aren’t infectious until after they develop symptoms). Symptoms appear flu-like at first—fever, fatigue, muscle pain, headache, and sore throat—and are eventually followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, and even internal and external bleeding, according to WHO.
While supportive care (like oral or intravenous fluids or treatment of specific symptoms) can improve survival rates, there’s no known treatment for Ebola. In a report from WHO earlier this week, the disease claims the lives of about half of those it infects, so it’s extremely deadly.
I live in the U.S.—how worried should I be?
Basically, not too worried—at least right now. “This is not something someone in the U.S. needs to fear immediately,” says Julie Fischer, Ph.D., global health infectious disease expert at Georgetown University Medical Center. “While the Ebola virus is a disease that is very frightening, it’s not an airborne disease, and it doesn’t spread rapidly. Rather it requires exposure to fluids from people who are already infected,” explains Fischer.
Thus far, WHO has said that the risk of Ebola spreading internationally is low, though that could change tomorrow when they release a new statement and decide whether or not to declare it an international emergency.
Take assurance in the fact that world health leaders learned from the previous outbreak, which is why they’re moving fast to understand this one and mobilize a response to protect people from Ebola traveling across borders, says Fischer.
In fact, the WHO has shipped 4,000 doses of a newly developed Ebola vaccine to infected areas, in an attempt to “encircle the ourbreak,” per the NYT. So, according to Fisher, “as of right now, you don’t need to take any special precautions to protect yourself against the spread of this disease.”
The bottom line: A new Ebola outbreak is especially scary, but, because the outbreak is still small and world health leaders are moving fast to keep this one contained, there’s no need to worry as of right now.
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