The Ebola virus has received substantial media attention in recent weeks, and it has been the source of much conjecture and even panic.
But does Ebola pose a serious health risk to Americans? If you’re planning to travel to an African nation where Ebola has been present and you have questions, consult with your primary care doctor, but for the rest of us, there is little risk from Ebola.
The Ebola virus was first identified in the mid-1970s in Central Africa, and it is named after the Ebola River, a tributary of the Congo River that flows through the northern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The natural host of Ebola is not yet known, but research indicates that people may become infected through contact with a likewise infected animal, such as a monkey, ape or fruit bat. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an infected human may then spread the virus through direct contact with blood or bodily fluids through broken skin or mucous membranes, or through contaminated objects such as needles or syringes. Unlike some other viruses, Ebola is not spread through the air or by water.
The limited transmission mechanism means that Ebola is not very contagious at all. In fact, among humans it’s one of the least contagious diseases we know of. Because of this, the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the US, Thomas Duncan, who was sent away from a Dallas hospital when he was showing symptoms of Ebola and potentially contagious, infected only two people, two of the nurses who helped treat him. All other people he came in contact with were monitored and discharged.
So far, it seems that no-one has contracted the Ebola virus from a doctor in New York who was diagnosed on October 23.
Ebola outbreaks have occurred sporadically in Africa since the 1970s. Those most at risk to contract Ebola are family, friends and healthcare workers in close contact with the infected. Of course, those who come in contact with an infected animal are also at risk; in Africa, Ebola sometimes spreads through the handling of freshly killed game.
Ebola symptoms generally appear within 8 to 10 days of exposure, but may appear anywhere within a 2-day to 3-week window. Initially, symptoms may seem flu-like and include fever, headache, weakness and nausea. However, as author Richard Preston detailed in the best-selling 1994 book about Ebola, The Hot Zone, the virus poses life-threatening complications once it takes hold; those with Ebola may suffer hemorrhaging, organ failure, seizures and other adverse effects.
There is currently no medication to treat Ebola, and no vaccine to prevent it (although ongoing vaccination research shows promise). Ebola is treated through quality medical care that includes fluids, blood pressure maintenance, oxygen, replacing blood loss, and treating other side-effects such as secondary infections.
Although Ebola is potentially deadly, its spread can be prevented with proper care. If you are traveling to an African nation where Ebola has been present, or if you are in physical contact with someone who has been in Africa as a healthcare worker in proximity to Ebola, it’s important to exercise caution. The CDC offers a number of prevention tips for travelers and healthcare workers.
If you’re seeking a knowledgeable and compassionate primary care physician in the Littleton, Colorado, area, please contact Dr. Andy Fine online or call our office at 303-703-8583 today.