NPR logo Quick Facts About Ebola

Public Health

Quick Facts About Ebola

Basic information about Ebola isn't as clear as it probably could be.

A recent poll by the Harvard School of Public Health, for instance, found that 38 percent of Americans are worried that Ebola will infect them or a family member in the next year, despite assurances from officials that the U.S. will stop Ebola in its tracks.

We've put together a primer on what you need to know. We'll update it as new information develops.

Quick Facts About Ebola

  • 1. It's Not That Contagious. Really.

    A comparison of reproduction numbers, or R0s, for several viruses. R0 is one measure of contagiousness. Adam Cole/NPR hide caption

    toggle caption
    Adam Cole/NPR

    Each person who contracts the virus spreads it, on average, to one or two other people. It's not as contagious as HIV, SARS or measles.

  • 2. It's Not Airborne

    A CDC poster shows ways Ebola isn't spread. CDC hide caption

    toggle caption
    CDC

    A CDC poster shows ways Ebola isn't spread.

    CDC

    If you haven't heard by now, Ebola is transmitted through bodily fluids, such as blood, sweat, saliva, breast milk, feces, urine and semen. But infectious disease specialists say Ebola isn't an airborne disease, like the flu.

  • 3. But It Can Be Dangerous

    Medical workers with the Liberian Red Cross carry the body of a victim of the Ebola virus on Sept. 4, in Banjor, Liberia. Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

    toggle caption
    Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images

    Medical workers with the Liberian Red Cross carry the body of a victim of the Ebola virus on Sept. 4, in Banjor, Liberia.

    Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images

    While Ebola isn't the deadliest contagious disease (defined as the mortality rate for people who are diagnosed), outbreaks can have fatality rates up to 90 percent, according to the World Health Organization. The fatality rate for the current outbreak is estimated to be about 70 percent.

  • 4. Health Officials Oppose A Travel Ban

    Jeff Hulbert of Annapolis, Md., holds up a sign to stop flights in front of the White House last Friday. Allison Shelley/Getty Images hide caption

    toggle caption
    Allison Shelley/Getty Images

    Jeff Hulbert of Annapolis, Md., holds up a sign to stop flights in front of the White House last Friday.

    Allison Shelley/Getty Images

    A travel ban, health specialists say, would be difficult to impose and would cut off help to those countries in West Africa hit the worst by the disease. Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said a ban would make it harder to track the travel itineraries of infected people. On Tuesday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said travelers arriving from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia must fly into one of five U.S. airports equipped for passenger screenings (see Fact 6).

  • 5. We Can Help Stop It By Asking People How They Feel

    Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins waits outside a unit at the Ivy Apartments, where Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to die of Ebola in the U.S., was staying in Dallas. Tom Pennington/Getty Images hide caption

    toggle caption
    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins waits outside a unit at the Ivy Apartments, where Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to die of Ebola in the U.S., was staying in Dallas.

    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    The CDC's Epidemic Intelligence Service tracked down possible cases of Ebola by asking people who came in contact with Thomas Eric Duncan how they felt and if they had a fever. The first symptoms of Ebola are a fever, fatigue, muscle pain, headache and sore throat, according to the World Health Organization.

  • 6. Or Taking Their Temperature

    Health officials use a thermometer to screen passengers at the arrival hall of Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, Nigeria, on Monday. Sunday Alamba/AP hide caption

    toggle caption
    Sunday Alamba/AP

    Health officials use a thermometer to screen passengers at the arrival hall of Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, Nigeria, on Monday.

    Sunday Alamba/AP

    Passengers flying from West Africa to Washington Dulles International, Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson, Newark (N.J.) Liberty International, Chicago's O'Hare and New York's John F. Kennedy International airport have their temperatures taken as part of Ebola screening. The no-touch thermometers used in airport screenings aren't perfect, but they're one step in identifying patients who may need further testing.

  • 7. The Sick Need To Stay Home

    The Dallas apartment where Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan stayed when he fell ill remains under quarantine Monday, 12 days after his death. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images hide caption

    toggle caption
    Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

    The Dallas apartment where Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan stayed when he fell ill remains under quarantine Monday, 12 days after his death.

    Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

    For people who have been in contact with someone who tested positive for Ebola, a 21-day quarantine (the virus's incubation period ranges from two to 21 days) can help stop the spread of infection. Nearly all of the people quarantined in Dallas because they had contact with Thomas Eric Duncan have passed the 21-day mark.

  • 8. And Their Pets Need To Be Considered

    Officials in Madrid euthanized Excalibur, the dog owned by a nurse assistant who got infected with Ebola, because of the chance the animal might spread the disease. PACMA/AP hide caption

    toggle caption
    PACMA/AP

    Officials in Madrid euthanized Excalibur, the dog owned by a nurse assistant who got infected with Ebola, because of the chance the animal might spread the disease.

    PACMA/AP

    Spanish health authorities euthanized the dog of a nurse who was diagnosed with Ebola. We know the virus can live inside dogs because they produce antibodies against Ebola. But we don't know whether dogs can transmit the virus to humans.

  • 9. The U.S. Has Specialized Facilities For Patients

    Emory University Hospital in Atlanta has treated and successfully released three patients with Ebola, and the Nebraska Medical Center has treated and released two. These hospitals use biocontainment units to protect hospital staff and other patients. Nina Pham, a nurse who treated Thomas Eric Duncan, was flown from Dallas to the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, Md.

    Emory Hospital YouTube
  • 10. There Are Experimental Drugs, But They Need More Testing

    Engineered proteins glow under ultraviolet light on the leaves of N. benthamiana plants, which are being developed by Icon Genetics to produce ingredients for an Ebola treatment called Zmapp. Sean Gallup/Getty Images hide caption

    toggle caption
    Sean Gallup/Getty Images

    Engineered proteins glow under ultraviolet light on the leaves of N. benthamiana plants, which are being developed by Icon Genetics to produce ingredients for an Ebola treatment called Zmapp.

    Sean Gallup/Getty Images

    Experimental drugs for Ebola are being developed, including ZMapp, which is produced in genetically modified tobacco plants. The drug was used to treat Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol earlier this year before the limited supply ran out. GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson and NewLink Genetics are working on experimental Ebola vaccines.

  • 11. If You're Healthy, You Can Still Take That Safari

    How big is Africa? This illustration shows how many countries and regions could fit inside "the cradle of humankind." Kai Krause hide caption

    toggle caption
    Kai Krause

    How big is Africa? This illustration shows how many countries and regions could fit inside "the cradle of humankind."

    Kai Krause

    The Ebola outbreak remains in West Africa, and countries other than those bordering Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone aren't considered to be at risk. The CDC doesn't recommend that travelers avoid visiting other African countries.

  • 12. Misinformation Is Easy To Find, So Stay Educated

    Dr. Kent Brantly is released from Emory Hospital; Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas; A worker removes the contents of the apartment where Thomas Eric Duncan was staying in Dallas; Researcher Adrian Hill holds a vial of experimental vaccine; Carnival Magic cruise ship off the coast of Cozumel, Mexico. Jessica McGowan/Getty; Mike Stone/Getty Images; Jim Young/Reuters/Landov; Steve Parsons/AP; Angel Castellanos/AP hide caption

    toggle caption
    Jessica McGowan/Getty; Mike Stone/Getty Images; Jim Young/Reuters/Landov; Steve Parsons/AP; Angel Castellanos/AP

    Dr. Kent Brantly is released from Emory Hospital; Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas; A worker removes the contents of the apartment where Thomas Eric Duncan was staying in Dallas; Researcher Adrian Hill holds a vial of experimental vaccine; Carnival Magic cruise ship off the coast of Cozumel, Mexico.

    Jessica McGowan/Getty; Mike Stone/Getty Images; Jim Young/Reuters/Landov; Steve Parsons/AP; Angel Castellanos/AP

    There's a lot of misinformation on the Internet, so we've compiled a timeline of Ebola in the U.S. to chronicle the country's response to the virus.