On Tuesday, federal and state health officials confirmed the first case of Ebola in the U.S. in a patient at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. Here's what you need to know about the case and Ebola in general:
What is Ebola?
Ebola is a rare but deadly viral disease that is mostly found in Africa. The current Ebola outbreak has been concentrated in poor West African countries, where more than 6,500 individuals have contracted the virus and 3,000 have died, according to the World Health Organization.
There are five strains of the Ebola virus, four of which are known to cause disease in humans. The current outbreak is of the Zaire strain. Thomas Frieden, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the patient in Dallas, who is critically ill, is the first individual outside of Africa to be diagnosed this particular strain of Ebola.
How is Ebola spread?
Ebola is not easily contracted because it is not spread through the air like other common viral diseases, such as the flu.
It can only be transmitted through direct exposure to the bodily fluids — including blood, sweat, saliva, vomit and diarrhea — of someone who is carrying the virus and is showing symptoms. Individuals can display symptoms between two and 21 days after exposure, but most will develop between eight to 10 days.
How did it get to Texas/the U.S.?
The adult man carrying the Ebola virus traveled to the U.S. from Liberia, arriving on Sept. 20. Officials have not provided further information about what airline or route the patient took to enter the country.
Health officials said the individual did not show any symptoms of the virus when he departed Liberia or when he entered the U.S. to visit family in the Dallas area, meaning he was not infectious at the time.
While it is unknown exactly how the patient became infected, health officials said he “undoubtedly” came in close contact with someone who was sick with Ebola or who had died from it.
How long did it take to confirm the Texas case?
Health officials confirmed the Ebola virus in the patient 10 days after the patient entered the country and six days after he first developed symptoms on Sept. 24.
He sought medical care on Sept. 26 at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital emergency room where he was discharged with a prescription for antibiotics. His symptoms were not specific enough to pinpoint the Ebola virus. Symptoms of Ebola are similar to those associated with other illnesses, including fever, headache, muscle pain, diarrhea and vomiting.
He returned to the hospital on Sept. 28 and was placed in isolation. Health officials confirmed the Ebola case two days later after a blood sample was sent to a Texas Department of State Health Services laboratory in Austin. The sample was received at 9 a.m. Tuesday, and the case was confirmed at 1:22 p.m.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the diagnosis and publicly released the information later Tuesday afternoon.
Are other Texans at risk?
Health officials repeatedly said Tuesday that there are no other suspected cases in Texas. But they indicated that the patient might have come in contact with a “handful” of family and community members while showing symptoms of the Ebola virus.
A CDC team is working with the Dallas County Health and Human Services department to monitor those individuals and trace anyone else who may have come into contact with the patient. Zachary Thompson, director of Dallas County health department, said it’s likely that they will only have to look into a “small framework” in terms of the number of possible contacts.
Dallas health care workers who came in contact with the patient are also being monitored closely, but hospitals officials said there wasn’t “any significant exposure” between hospital staff and the patient.
Health officials emphasized that the individuals on the flight the patient traveled on are not at risk because the patient had not yet developed symptoms. Ebola is only contagious after symptoms become apparent.
The CDC and the Texas Department of State Health Services said on Tuesday that they are confident that the virus will be contained and will not spread to other areas of the state or the country.
Is there a cure for Ebola?
There is no official vaccine or drug treatment for Ebola that has proven effective in humans, according to the CDC.
The main treatment for Ebola is called “supportive care,” which includes rehydration, treatment to control fever and medications to maintain blood pressure. Recovering from Ebola infection is highly dependent on a patient's immune system, and those who recover develop antibodies for the virus that last 10 years.
There are some Ebola treatments that are still in the development or testing stages. And some individuals have recovered after being infected with the virus, including Fort Worth physician Kent Brantly, who contracted Ebola while working in Liberia. He was transported to a Georgia hospital, where he received an experimental serum called ZMapp. A second dose of the serum was given to American aid worker Nancy Writebol, who also caught the virus, but there is no additional supply.