About Ebola Virus Disease

What is Ebola?

Ebola is a virus.  It causes a viral hemorrhagic fever disease, characterized by high fevers and abnormal bleeding.

What are the symptoms?

A sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache, and a sore throat is typically followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, impaired kidney function, and both internal and external bleeding.  Symptoms may appear anywhere from 2 to 21 days after exposure to Ebola virus, although 8-10 days is most common.

How is Ebola transmitted?

Ebola is not a respiratory disease like the flu, so it is not transmitted through the air, is not a food-borne illness, and is not a water-borne illness.  The virus is spread through direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with

  • A sick person’s blood or body fluids (urine, saliva, feces, vomit, and semen)
  • Objects (such as needles) that have been contaminated with infected body fluids
  • Infected animals

Healthcare workers and family and friends in close contact with Ebola patients are at the highest risk of getting sick because they may come in contact with infected blood or body fluids.  Unsafe burial practices are also a source of infection.

Can I get Ebola from a person who is infected but doesn’t have any symptoms?

No.  Individuals who are not symptomatic are not contagious.  In order for the virus to be transmitted, an individual would have to have direct contact with an individual who is experiencing symptoms. 

What precautions are being taken in the US and at Penn?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has provided guidance to airlines for managing ill passengers and crew and disinfecting aircraft and to US healthcare workers for preventing the spread of the virus, testing and isolating suspected patients, and protecting themselves from the infection.  The CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine is responsible for preventing the transmission of illnesses across the US borders, and has set up screenings at the 5 US airports receiving 94% of travelers from the Ebola-affected region.

At Penn, the Student Health Service is closely monitoring information about the virus and following the recommendations of the CDC to support students who may have traveled to or live in an affected region.  SHS is also working closely with the University of Pennsylvania Health System and the Philadelphia Department of Health to make sure that appropriate protocols are in place and that we remain aware of the most up-to-date developments in the Philadelphia region.  We will continue to actively monitor the situation and provide information to the Penn community.  Should a student feel concerned about a potential exposure, please contact 215-743-3535 as quickly as possible and press option 3 to speak with a nurse.

How will Pennsylvania actively monitor travelers?

Upon arrival at the designated airports, travelers from the three West African countries will be screened by federal agents/officials.

If travelers do not have or report any symptoms, have no measured fever and have been determined to have an “uncertain exposure risk” (meaning they don’t know if they were exposed to Ebola or does not acknowledge any exposure) they will be allowed to continue their journey, as long as they follow-up with public health authorities and are monitored for 21 days.  Federal officials will provide the traveler’s key information to relevant state health departments.

Travelers will be given a “CARE” (Check and Report Ebola) kit which includes a fact sheet and instructions to self-monitor for signs and symptoms of Ebola, a temperature and symptoms log, a thermometer, and a contact sheet with the 24/7 phone numbers of state health departments.  Travelers who live or stay in Philadelphia will be monitored by the Philadelphia Department of Health.  Travelers will be monitored daily for 21 days after their arrival to the US.  The method, whether by phone, Skype, or in-person, will be determined by the health department during the monitoring.  Health departments will use a “Passenger Symptom Follow-Up Diary” to track the following types to information twice a day:

  • Temperature (taken at two different times per day)
  • Other symptoms like:
    • Chills
    • Weakness
    • Headache
    • Joint of muscle aches
    • Abdominal pain
    • Diarrhea (and the number of times per day)
    • Vomiting
    • Unexplained bleeding
    • Stomach pain
    • Lack of appetite
    • Other symptoms

Travelers will also be asked daily if they have plans to travel anywhere within the 21-day monitoring period.  This will ensure health officials can check in with travelers on a twice daily basis.

If the individuals have no known potential exposures to Ebola, they will not be given any travel restrictions.

If individuals had possible exposures to Ebola, their travel will be restricted and they will be instructed to not use commercial travel methods (planes, buses, trains, etc.).

CDC is providing a list of travelers whose final destination is Pennsylvania, as well as any relevant information and contact information.

Is there a vaccine or treatment?

Currently, there is no licensed medicine or vaccine for Ebola virus disease, but several products are under development.  There is currently no specific treatment to cure the disease, other than supportive care, such as rehydration.

What is being done to prevent the spread outside of West Africa?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and Ministries of Health of affected countries are working together to implement outbreak containment measures.  The CDC deployed several teams of public health experts to the Ebola-affected region to assist with various response efforts, including surveillance, contact tracing, database management, and health education.  In addition, airports in affected countries are screening all outbound passengers for Ebola symptoms, including fever, and passengers are required to respond to a healthcare questionnaire.  The CDC is working closely with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and other partners at port of entry (primarily international airports) to use routine processes to identify travelers who show signs of infectious disease.  If a sick traveler is identified during or after a flight, the CDC will conduct an investigation of exposed travelers and work with the airline, federal partners, and state and local health departments to notify them and take any necessary public health action.

Is it safe to travel to West Africa on business or to visit family and friends?

Penn Global is recommending that all Penn travelers avoid nonessential travel to West African nations of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.  The CDC issued a warning for US citizens to avoid nonessential travel to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.  International SOS, Penn’s international emergency medical and security assistance provider, is also strongly advising travelers to defer nonessential travel to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.  Perelman School of Medicine issued a policy for students and clinical and research trainees to follow in regards to travel related to the Botswana-UPenn partnership.

We want all members of the Penn community to have the latest information for travelers:

  • All travelers to Pennsylvania whose travel originates in one of the affected countries must follow the active post-arrival monitoring outlined by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Health and described on their Ebola information web page.
  • All students, faculty, and staff should follow the travel alerts issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which urge US citizens to defer unnecessary travel to the affected countries.  All students, faculty, and staff planning  travel to or from the affected countries, including travel for personal reasons, must provide information about the trip through Penn’s Global Activities Registry: http://global.upenn.edu/gar    
  • We strongly encourage students, faculty, and staff at Penn planning any travel outside the US, even to non-affected countries, to provide information about their trip through the Global Activities Registry.

What if I am returning from an affected country or making contact with someone with Ebola?

All students, faculty, and staff who have returned or are planning to return from an affected country (Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone), or who have had direct contact with a person with Ebola, must comply with the active post-arrival monitoring and other guidance outlined by the CDC, the Pennsylvania Department of Health, and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.  In addition, they must inform the appropriate campus health office to receive guidance: Students must contact the Student Health Service at 215-746-3535.  Faculty or staff must contact the University of Pennsylvania Health System (UPHS) Ebola Hotline at 215-614-0524.

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(updated 7/17/2018)