Children's Hospital Colorado

What Is Ebola?

Children's Hospital Colorado | November 21, 2014

Ebola is a rare virus that spreads through direct contact with blood or body fluid of a person infected by, and already with symptoms of the virus.

What are symptoms of Ebola?

Symptoms can include fever, severe headache, muscle pain, weakness, fatigue, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and unexplained bleeding or bruising. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms may appear anywhere from two to 21 days after exposure to Ebola, but the average is eight to 10 days.

Recovery from Ebola depends on good supportive clinical care and the patient’s immune response. People who recover from Ebola infection develop antibodies that last for at least 10 years.

How does Ebola spread?

The Ebola virus spreads through direct contact with blood or body fluid of a person infected by, and already showing symptoms of the virus. Ebola does not spread through air, water, food, or mosquitos. 

See an infographic with facts about Ebola from the CDC (.pdf).

How likely is it for an outbreak to occur in the U.S.?

According to CDC, the risk of an outbreak affecting multiple people in the U.S. is very low. Outbreaks in other parts of the world have previously occurred in areas with limited resources, such as adequate disinfectants and proper personal protective equipment.

Should I limit my travel or my family’s travel because of Ebola?

Because the risk of an outbreak affecting multiple people in the U.S. is very low, travel within the U.S. is safe in regards to Ebola. However, other illnesses like the flu can spread in environments like airplanes, so Children’s Hospital Colorado recommends that travelers get a flu vaccination and are up-to-date on all other vaccines. No matter the time of year, travelers should make a consistent habit of practicing good hand hygiene.  

If you are concerned about travel outside the U.S., visit the U.S. State Department’s website for travel advisories.

How should parents talk to their kids about Ebola?

Experts at Children’s Colorado provide tips on ways that parents can talk to their children about Ebola.

  1. Recognize that kids (about 6 years old and older), based on their exposure, could have big worries about this, especially if something Ebola-related has personally affected them, such as knowing someone who lives in West Africa.
  2. Limit kids' exposure to the media. Repeat consumption of tragic stories and images can be harmful. Parents should consider viewing Ebola coverage when children are not present.
  3. Develop and ensure an open environment. For example, use sentences like, "You sound worried," or "You look like you could be worried about __." If the conversation doesn't go anywhere, that's fine. Parents should be honest in terms of their feelings, too; it's okay to say, "This is worrisome." Use words appropriate for a child's age.
  4. Make this a teaching moment. Talk to your children about why it's important for hospitals to prepare for any disease and why we have agencies in place to help. 
  5. Reassure. Children need to understand that the likelihood of their coming in contact with Ebola is very small. 
  6. Stay calm and reinforce proper hand hygiene. The more you panic about Ebola-related scenarios, the more likely your children are to react to your stress. Try to focus on an empowering message, like always practicing proper hand hygiene.
  7. Involve your child. If your child is concerned about the current outbreak in West Africa, look for ways he or she can become involved in relief efforts. Project Cure provides Kits for Kids to help developing countries and the American Red Cross is looking for donations to help their efforts in Sierra Leona, Liberia and Guinea.

The Colorado Health Emergency Line for Public Information (COHELP) can also help answer some of your Ebola-related related questions. CO-HELP can be reached at 303-389-1687 or 1-877-462-2911.

If you have additional questions, check out the following resources:

Information on this page provided by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and Children’s Hospital Colorado.