If you have turned on the TV, computer or radio I would bet you’ve heard about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the worst in history. Now Ebola has made its way to the United States. With all the media attention I’m sure many of us still have the same questions – what is Ebola and do I really need to be concerned?

Ebola is an acute viral illness characterized by the sudden onset of fever, debilitating weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. People often confuse the illness’ early symptoms with cold or flu symptoms. Ebola is not a respiratory disease like the flu, so it is not transmitted through the air or through contaminated food or water. Ebola can only spread to other humans via contact with their bodily fluids, including saliva, sweat, blood and vomit, so people can only get Ebola from touching the bodily fluids of a person or animal that is sick with or has died from Ebola, or from exposure to contaminated objects, such as needles.

Though the Ebola outbreak has shown up in America, health officials have stressed repeatedly that the general public is at very low risk for contracting the virus, and they are instructing health workers on the proper precautions to take if they are called upon to treat an infected patient. Even though we have been advised we are at low risk, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself against Ebola:

  • Wash hands frequently or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid contact with blood and bodily fluids of another person, especially someone who is sick.
  • Do not handle items that may have come in contact with an infected person’s blood or body fluids.
  • Seek medical care immediately if you develop a fever and any other of the following symptoms: headache, muscle pain, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain and unexplained bruising or bleeding.

Want to know more? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a page dedicated to Ebola information.