Myths and rumors about the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa are hindering health workers from doing their jobs abroad and causing unnecessary panic and paranoia globally. Here’s the truth about some of the most common misconceptions about Ebola virus:
Myth: Ebola virus is airborne, waterborne or spreads through casual contact.
Truth: Ebola virus spreads when the bodily fluids of an infected person comes into contact with the mucous membranes of a non-infected person. That means Ebola virus in fluids like blood, sweat or urine has to come in contact with your eyes, mouth, nostrils, ears, genital area or an open wound in order to infect you.
In other words, it takes a lot of contact — not just casual contact — to become infected with the virus, which is why many of the victims of the disease in West Africa are health care workers or family members caring for a sick relative. In Western hospitals, transmission is easily prevented with precautionary measures like face masks, gloves, protective gowns and isolation units.
Health workers in West Africa are teaching community members about the importance of washing hands with soap and water, bringing sick family members to clinics and burying the bodies of people who have died from Ebola to minimize infection risk.
Myth: Ebola can be prevented by bathing or drinking a salt & water solution
Truth: I woke up this morning to several texts saying bathing with a warm salt & water solution will prevent one front contracting the deadly Ebola virus if they come in contact with an infected person. This is simply not true! The World Health Organization (WHO) wrote on twitter,
Bathing with salt and warm water, drinking water with salt does NOT cure #Ebola. Facts about what helps treat Ebola http://t.co/Evrm7YlsME
— WHO (@WHO) August 8, 2014
Myth: Even if you beat Ebola, you can still pass on the virus to others.
Truth: Usually, only people who are exhibiting Ebola symptoms can pass the virus on to others. Aaron DeVries, the medical director of the infectious disease division at the Minnesota Department of Health, addressed this issue and others during an interview with local NBC affiliate Kare 11. DeVries confirmed that only people exhibiting Ebola symptoms, like fever, headache, vomiting and diarrhea, can pass the virus on to others. However, the World Health Organization notes that a man who has had Ebola can transmit the virus via his semen for up to 7 weeks after they’ve recovered from the disease.
Myth: This is the first major outbreak of Ebola.
Truth: This is the largest outbreak of Ebola in history, but it isn’t the first. The virus was first diagnosed in humans in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It infected 318 people and had an 88 percent fatality rate. Since then, various strains of the disease have popped up around the African continent, infecting as many as 425 people in 2000 and, most recently, 57 people in 2012, according to WHO.
As of Aug. 4, 2014, the most recent count available, Ebola virus has infected 1,711 people and killed 932 people in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria since the virus emerged again this year.
Myth: Ebola can be treated with antibiotics (or onions, or condensed milk, or…)
Truth: Antibiotics cure bacterial infections, not viral infections. Currently, there is neither a cure nor a vaccine for the Ebola virus.
Instead, there is an experimental serum called ZMapp, which contains antibodies designed to help block the virus. Before the 2014 Ebola outbreak, it had only ever been tested on monkeys and has not been approved for human use. American Ebola patients Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol decided to risk it and take the experimental drug, and early reports are cautiously optimistic about their improving conditions. However, it’s unclear what role (if any) the drug is playing in their recovery, reports the Washington Post.
Myth: Ebola liquifies your organs, which causes bleeding from the orifices.
Truth: While Ebola symptoms can include bleeding from the eyes, ears, nose and mouth, those things only happen in about 20 percent of cases, explained Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, M.D., the associate hospital epidemiologist at Boston Medical Center and director of Infection Control at Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Disease Laboratories in a previous HuffPost story.
The body’s organs are not liquified. However, when people die from Ebola, it’s usually because the virus causes multi-organ failure and shock. This occurs because Ebola virus weakens blood vessels, causing internal and sometimes external bleeding. The virus also prevents the body from clotting blood effectively, which would help to stop the bleeding.