What You Need To Know About Ebola

What You Need To Know About Ebola
 

 

Yesterday, The New York Times reported that the first patient was diagnosed with the Ebola virus in the United States. Since this news hit the web, scores of people have Googled “Ebola” most likely out of a combination of both fear and curiosity. This is understandable, as Ebola has proven to be a deadly virus in West African communities that has escalated into an epidemic; it feels as if it’s spinning out of control.It’s true that the situation is dire in places like Sierra Leone and Liberia where the disease has outpaced the efforts of foreign aid agencies, but it’s important to keep in mind that Ebola is a virus similar to SARS or the more recent Enterovirus D68. Viruses feel elusive because they cannot be treated by antibiotics, but in reality, they respond very well to good public health measures.As Dr. Tom Frieden at the Centers for Disease Control said in The New York Times, there are set protocols for containing this type of virus that are “tried and true.” Dr. Frieden was adamant that the U.S. will “stop this in its tracks.” In Africa, this has been a major difficulty because good public health measures do not always exist and people are not always adhering to them for a variety of reasons including misconceptions and fear of medical professionals.

I am a firm believer in good public health policy, and feel confident in our country’s ability to respond to Ebola effectively. In the upcoming days, we will see a familiar reaction to Ebola – one that reminds us of the SARS outbreak. Airport security will step up their precautionary screenings; anyone presenting with flu-like symptoms will be withheld from travel and sent home. Places like emergency rooms will increase use of universal precautions like masks, gloves and hand washing, because it will be difficult to determine who has normal viral symptoms and who may be at the early stages of Ebola. There will definitely be the need for a higher index of suspicion for flulike symptoms, particularly in a patient with recent travel.

That being said, Ebola is not transmitted by airborne contact and can only be transmitted through contact with bodily fluids. To become infected, a person must also be exposed to the disease when the carrier is symptomatic. Therefore, public health efforts will focus on isolating potentially symptomatic patients from public settings to prevent Ebola from spreading.

As a father and pediatrician, I would urge my family, friends, and patients to just be thoughtful in the coming weeks. After being in public gatherings or medical sites wash your hands.  Avoid obviously ill people and consult your physician if you or your family has fever or flu-like symptoms. If you are ill or have a medical need, you might consider a telehealth visit through Amwell so that you can avoid waiting rooms and other ill patients.

Of course, we all have to keep living our lives and we should not panic. I, for one, am about to get on a plane to fly back to Los Angeles. Am I afraid that I’ll catch Ebola on the plane? No, but I will make sure to stay away from anyone with a cough and I will wash my hands once I land. It never hurts to be careful.

Questions about Ebola? For complete peace of mind, connect to a board-certified doctor on American Well from anywhere, at any time 24-7. Go online or download the mobile app from iTunes or Google Play stores.

Catherine Anderson contributed to this report.

 

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