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Addressing the Ebola Epidemic

Posted on Tuesday, November 04, 2014, by Ashley Snyder

by Dr. Kathryne Buege

This month's blog post is dedicated to facts and information related to the Ebola virus.  Having just traveled by airplane to visit an ill family member, I noticed people wearing masks at the terminal and on the plane.  It made me think, is that necessary?  How should I protect myself when traveling or at work? Since I was going to a hospital, luckily I was prepared with plenty of hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and Lysol spray.  The man in the aisle next to me even asked me why I was wiping down the tray, armrests and seat belt.  I was being extra careful since I was traveling to visit someone in the ICU, but let me tell you, I could not wait to get off the plane and out of that airport terminal. Then, upon returning home, the news about the nurse who tested positive for Ebola who traveled from Cleveland to Dallas hit.  So, I did some research and here are a few facts to be aware of.

What exactly is Ebola (Ebola hemorrhagic fever)?

It is a virus that causes these early symptoms:

  • fever
  • headache
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • stomach pain
  • muscle pain
  • unexplained bruising or bleeding

How is the Ebola virus transmitted?

  • DIRECT contact with:
    • Body fluids of a person who is sick with or has died from Ebola.  This includes blood, vomit, urine, stool, sweat, semen, saliva and other fluids.
    • Objects contaminated with the virus, such as needles or medical equipment
    • Infected animals, by contact with blood, fluids or infected meat
  • the virus is NOT transmitted through the air or water or, in general, by food.

What are the risks for exposure?

  • Needle stick or mucous membrane contact with blood or body fluids from Ebola patient
  • Direct skin contact with or exposure to blood or body fluids from Ebola patient
  • Fever of Ebola symptoms in a patient with recent travel to a country with wide-spread Ebola
  • Processing blood or body fluids from an Ebola patient without appropriate personal protective equipment or bio-safety precautions
  • Direct contact with a dead body (including during funeral rites) in a country with wide-spread Ebola

When can the disease be spread to others?

  • Ebola only spreads when people are sick.  A patient must have symptoms to spread the disease to others.
  • After 21 days, if an exposed person does not develop symptoms, they will not become sick with Ebola.
  • Once someone recovers from Ebola, they can no longer spread the virus.  Abstinence from sex is recommended for at least 3 months because the virus has been isolated in semen for up to 3 months post-recovery.

How is the Ebola virus treated?

  • There is NO FDA-approved vaccine or medicine (i.e. anti-viral drug) available for Ebola
  • Basic interventions, such as providing IV fluids and electrolytes help to maintain patients' blood pressure and oxygen status
  •  Experimental vaccines and treatments for Ebola are currently in development.
  • People who recover from the Ebola infection develop antibodies that can last at least 10 years or possibly longer.

When traveling, the following precautions are recommended:

  • Don't touch your face!  The Ebola virus makes its way into your body in two ways: through breaks in the skin and through your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Stock up on hand sanitizer
  • Wash your hands often
  • Notify your flight attendant if you suspect a passenger is ill
  • Wipe down trays, armrests and seat belts with disinfectant wipes.

With influenza season just around the corner, it will become crucial for health care providers to differentiate between the two illnesses.  Medical care facilities in the area have developed phone triage and front line triage protocols to follow in order to screen for Ebola.  If you have any questions, contact your health care provider or MASH Urgent Care for recommendations and guidance.  Other great resources are the NYS Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.