There’s a big difference between having an Ebola infection and not having an Ebola infection.
A few weeks after returning to Sweden from Burundi, a man has been making headlines around the world, but not in a good way. He showed up at an emergency room in Enköping, Sweden, about 80 km northwest of Stockholm, vomiting blood. Doctors worried that he may have contracted the Ebola virus during his 3 week stay in the Central African country. Emergency infection control procedures kicked in, the man was then moved to Uppsala University Hospital, and headlines went a-blaring about a “suspected Ebola case in Sweden.”
Many people in Sweden and around the world then collectively went “oh #%&$*”, as the patient was placed in strict isolation and a battery of testing began. Speaking of #%&$*, diarrhea along with fever, a severe headache, muscle pain, weakness, fatigue, abdominal pain, vomiting, and unexplained bruising and bleeding are common symptoms of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD). These symptoms tend to emerge 8 to 10 days (with a range of 2 to 21 days) after exposure to the virus. If you spin the Wheel of Infectious Diseases to Get, EVD is not a good one to land on, since up to 90% of people with the disease die, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Ebola is not nearly as contagious as the measles or pertussis, which can be transmitted readily though the air. Instead, you can catch the Ebola virus through contact with the blood or other body fluids from a person sick with EVD. The virus also can survive on objects such as clothing and bed sheets that have been contaminated by Ebola virus-containing body fluids. Even when a man has survived and recovered from EVD, he still may have the virus in his semen, so such a history would be an important detail to disclose on a blind date. Another possible route is through infected fruit bats or primates such as apes or monkeys, so be careful when you hang out with them.
What besides the patient’s symptoms made doctors in Sweden suspect the Ebola virus? Well, Burundi (which rhymes with Al Bundy) sits directly East of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The DRC has been experiencing the second-largest and second-deadliest Ebola outbreak in world history (at least known world history) with 608 cases and 368 deaths as of January 1, 2019, according to this WHO report. A major concern is that the Ebola virus will continue to spread not only throughout the DRC but also into the 9 different countries (South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Tanzania, Burundi, Uganda, and Rwanda) that neighbor the DRC. If the man in Sweden had caught the Ebola virus in Burundi, this would have meant that the virus had made its way out of the DRC.
However, on Friday, Bianca Britton reported for CNN that the man’s Ebola test has now come back negative. The patient is not out of the proverbial woods yet since he could still have a number of other different serious conditions. But it seems like public health officials don’t have to worry quite as much about Ebola spreading outside the DRC and in Sweden, for now.