By Dr. Arthur Bradley
With the recent outbreak of Ebola, I thought it might be helpful to put together a short set of questions and answers relating to this disease. I invite you to share it with friends and family.
What is Ebola?
Ebola is a class of viruses that cause Ebola virus disease (a.k.a. Ebola hemorrhagic fever). Initial symptoms are similar to the common flu, including malaise, fever, sore throat, muscle pains, and headaches. Symptoms can begin anywhere from within a few days to as much as a few weeks. Those initial symptoms are later followed by nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, decreased function of the liver and kidneys, and bleeding.
How is the disease transmitted from person to person?
Transmission requires coming into contact with the blood or bodily fluids (i.e., blood, vomit, feces, semen, etc.) of an infected animal or person.
Does the person really die by bleeding from their eyes?
Not usually, no. While Ebola can indeed cause a hemorrhagic rash, bleeding from mucus membranes, and vomiting, coughing up, and passing of blood, the amount of blood loss is usually not enough to be fatal. Rather, the cause of death is usually multiple organ dysfunction syndrome (MODS).
How is the disease treated?
Ebola hemorrhagic fever has no specific treatment beyond standard oral rehydration and the use of intravenous fluids. There are also no approved vaccines for humans.
How lethal is Ebola?
The mortality rate can vary between 50% and 90%. The current strain ravaging Africa has a mortality rate of approximately 60%.
How many people have died in 2014 from Ebola?
As of this writing, 1,320 cases have been reported since February, of which there have been 729 deaths. This includes two US aid workers (Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol) who contracted the disease while treating infected patients in Africa. Most infections have occurred in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria.
Might Ebola become a global pandemic?
Experts say probably not. They cite three reasons. First, spreading the virus requires close contact with an infected or recently deceased person. Second, most cases are currently in remote regions of the world. And third, patients die very quickly, leaving less time for exposure.
What are they doing in Africa to stop the spread?
Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma declared a state of emergency, announcing that “extraordinary measures” will be taken, including sealing off towns and homes, restricting public gatherings, conducting active surveillance and house-to-house searches to track Ebola victims, and establishing new screening protocols at the airport. Additionally, Nigerian government health authorities are tracking down tens of thousands of people who are believed to be at risk of contracting Ebola.
What are we doing in the US to prevent its spread?
To date, not much. Experts believe that the risk of widespread transmission is still quite low. There have been discussions about changing passenger-screening rules in airports, as well as providing air-ambulance services for Ebola victims, but neither have yet been enacted.
Are we really bringing Ebola-infected people into the US?
Yes, both Dr. Brantly and Ms. Writebol are US citizens, and a decision was made to bring them to the US for the best possible medical care. They are being flown in to Dobbins Air Reserve base near Atlanta and will be transferred to the hospital in a special ambulance.
Is this a good idea?
It depends on who you ask. If you ask the victims’ families, the answer would almost certainly be yes. If you ask medical professionals, the answers will vary. Many cite the unnecessary risk to the patients as well as to the broader US population.
What are the chances that this patient transfer could result in an outbreak?
Experts say that it is very low, but not zero. The two patients will be confined to a specially equipped isolation unit in Emory University Hospital. This unit was established 12 years ago and was developed in collaboration with the CDC. It had previously been used to treat a patient with SARS.
But couldn’t something go wrong?
Of course. Whether it is the result of an accident or something more intentional, there is a risk that the virus will get out of the hospital. Another possibility is that it could contaminate someone while the patients are being transported to the hospital.
Should I worry for my family’s safety?
Worrying is counterproductive. Your family is in far more danger of dying in a house fire or on the nation’s highways. With that said, it would be prudent to be aware of the danger that this virus poses, not only through the transfer of these two poor individuals, but also from other potentially infected travelers. Ebola is a very serious disease that has the ability to devastate our entire world should it ever become widespread. Every family should be prepared for a worst case outbreak of Ebola or other infectious diseases.
What steps should we take to prepare?
Ebola is the type of disaster that reminds of us the Golden Rule of disaster preparedness: Whenever possible, get out of its way. There is no cure for this horrible disease, and essentially no treatment other than trying to keep victims from dying of dehydration. The bottom line is that you don’t want to catch it. If the virus were to get out, your family would be well served by staying away from other people. That includes stores, schools, and work. To do this implies that you would need a large quantity of supplies, of which food and water would be at the top of the list.
As outlined in the Handbook to Practical Disaster Preparedness for the Family, it is best to start by developing a complete disaster preparedness plan that addresses all fourteen needs. If you don’t already have a disaster preparedness plan, I strongly encourage that you take an afternoon to put one together. A plan will help to ensure that you make reasonable and effective preparations for this and other disasters. Basic preparedness information is provided for free at http://disasterpreparer.com, or you can purchase a copy of the handbook for a more complete reference.
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Please forward this educational post to friends and family so that they might better understand the worst Ebola outbreak in human history.
If you have any additional questions about the disease or disaster preparedness, please write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.