Ebola virus is a prominent current event story. While it certainly is a problem, we should be sure to keep this in perspective. To date this year, there are approximately 6500 cases and 3000 deaths reported in West Africa. There is only 1 confirmed case in the U.S., a West African man who traveled to Texas by way of Brussels, Belgium. Known contacts have been isolated, and so far there has been no evidence of spread in this country.
Ebola virus has been identified as a cause of human infections since 1976. It is named for the Ebola River in South Sudan. It is very infectious- studies suggest a single virus may cause fatal infection. However, it is at most moderately contagious. Humans can only be infected by contact with the bodily fluids of infected individuals (and only if ingested through mucus membranes like eye, nose, mouth). It cannot be spread before one is contagious or after one recovers. It is not airborne like influenza or measles.
Typical symptoms are similar to many viral infections: fever, headache, body ache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, rash. There is no cure or vaccine; treatment is directed at symptom relief and control of fluid losses.
According to Dr. Tom Frieden, Director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Ebola can be scary. But there is all the difference in the world between the U.S. and parts of Africa where Ebola is spreading. The U.S. has a strong healthcare system and public health professionals who will make sure this case does not threaten communities.”
Management of this problem consists of isolating known cases, identifying possible exposed contacts, and educating the public. Additional steps being taken by the CDC include:
- Enhancing surveillance in laboratory testing capacity
- Developing guidance and tools for health departments to conduct public health investigations
- Provide guidance for flight crews, EMS units at airports, custom and border protection officers about reporting ill travelers to CDC
- Disseminating up-to-date information to the general public
So what to do? Be cautious, but don’t panic. Wash hands frequently and report significant symptoms to your doctor, but don’t think Ebola unless you believe you were in contact with someone traveling from West Africa.
And get your flu shot: the flu kills approximately 41,000 Americans annually.