Saturday, October 11, 2014

Ebola- Should I be Worried?

According to a CBSNews poll, most Americans are at least somewhat concerned about Ebola and most don’t think the country is prepared to deal with it. 

The daily news has at least one article on Ebola. Yesterday, there was a report about a passenger removed from a flight to the Dominican Republic, when he coughed and joked, “I have Ebola. You’re all screwed.” He tested negative.

While accompanying a patient to her medical appointment this week,  we were both asked about fevers, coughs and other symptoms of Ebola. Given that we live in a remote and rural part of the country, that was pretty surprising.

The fear about this disease is spiraling out of control faster than the disease itself. So let’s put things in perspective:

What is Ebola: An infectious disease, which has a fatality rate between 50-90 percent. Thought to have originated in fruit bats, Ebola was first detected in 1976 near the Ebola River in today’s Democratic Republic of Congo.

How is it Spread: Ebola is spread through direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes in, for example, the eyes, nose, or mouth) with
    blood or body fluids (including but not limited to urine, saliva, sweat, feces, vomit, breast milk, and semen) of a person who is sick with Ebola
    objects (like needles and syringes) that have been contaminated with the virus
• infected animals (mammals-humans, bats, monkeys and apes)  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) 

IT IS NOT SPREAD THROUGH THE AIR OR BY WATER. While it is generally not spread through food, in Africa, Ebola may be spread as a result of handling bush meat. There is no evidence that insects, e.g. mosquitoes transmit the virus. Compared with most common diseases, Ebola is not particularly infectious. A person must have symptoms to spread Ebola to others.

What are the symptoms? Symptoms include: fever, severe headache, muscle pain, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal (stomach) pain, unexplained hemorrhage (bleeding or bruising). Symptoms may appear between 2 to 21 days after exposure to the virus, but the average is 8 to 10 days.

Who’s at Risk?: Those who care for people with symptoms of Ebola are at risk. It is important that those providing treatment or care for people with Ebola that they were appropriate protective equipment, including masks, gowns, gloves and eye protection. CDC 

Note that once a person with Ebola has recovered, they can no longer spread the virus. However, the virus has been detected for up to 3 months in semen so it is important these people either abstain from sex or use condoms.

How to Prevent it: There is no approved vaccine available for Ebola at this time. If you are going to travel or are in an area affected by Ebola, follow the CDC guidelines, which include careful hygiene and not handling items that came in contact with blood or body fluids. 

American’s Risk: According to the CDC Ebola poses no substantial risk to the U.S. general population. CDC recognizes that Ebola causes a lot of public worry and concern, but CDC’s mission is to protect the health of all Americans, including those who may become ill while overseas. Ebola patients can be transported and managed safely when appropriate precautions are used.

Is the U. S. Prepared? While the first case that came into Dallas had some issues, the U.S. deals with flu and other highly contagious diseases daily. The Sars outbreak and pandemic flu scares mean hospitals and public health officials in most countries are required to have contingency plans for both local, small-scale outbreaks and major events.
Protecting Yourself Against Ebola: The CDC has issued a Level 3 travel warning for U.S. citizens to avoid nonessential travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Nigeria has been downgraded to a Level 1 Watch, while the Democratic Republic of the Congo has an Alert, or Level 2 status. For additional travel alerts, go to Traveler’s Health Ebola web page. 

If you have to worry about something: Worry about getting the flu. The 1918-19 flu pandemic killed up to 5% of the world’s population, making it the most deadly illness in recorded history. The simple measures of vaccination, hand washing and covering your cough will go a long way to avoiding flu. Read  Don’t have time for the flu. Take Time to Prevent it. 

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