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What Is Ebola? Questions On Virus Arise As First Case Confirmed In North America

09/30/2014 05:54 EDT | Updated 09/30/2014 06:59 EDT
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The first North American case of Ebola has been confirmed in a man in Texas, leading many people to question just what the virus consists of, and how it is acquired.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Ebola virus, formerly known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, "causes an acute, serious illness which is often fatal if untreated." The virus is thought to originally come from fruit bats, and can be transmitted between humans through broken skin or mucous membranes, according to the WHO, via blood, secretions or other bodily fluids, and through surfaces and materials as well. Ebola is not transmitted through the air, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The virus is also transmitted through breast milk and semen, and people remain infectious as long as it is in their bodily fluids. For men, the virus can remain in their semen for up to seven weeks after recovering from Ebola.

Symptoms of Ebola include fever of 101.5°F and above, fatigue, muscles aches, headache, sore throat, vomiting, diarrhea, unexplained bruising and sometimes internal and external bleeding, according to the CDC.

Although the virus is highly contagious, precautions can be taken to prevent transmission between people, including using gloves and protective equipment when treating an infected patient. Precautions should also be used when handling a dead body of someone who has died from Ebola.

In the current outbreak that originated in West Africa, more than 3,000 people have died, reports the Wall Street Journal, with more than 6500 confirmed cases of the disease. A lack of sufficient protective materials has likely contributed to the spread of the disease, notes Vox.com.

Health ministers meeting in Alberta are trying to reassure Canadians now that the first confirmed case of Ebola has been reported in the United States.

Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins, who is a family physician, says the U.S. is not West Africa, where the outbreak of the virus originated.

Hoskins says the provinces and territories have some of the best infection control measures in the world in place.

He says surveillance by public health officials for Ebola has been heightened and health providers across Canada are being made aware of how to recognize and deal with any suspected cases.

Hoskins says people should keep in mind that Ebola is very difficult to transmit and the chances of it spreading to Canada are extremely remote.

With files from The Canadian Press

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