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Ebola: Still a Serious Health Threat

By Wendi Williams, Editor and Communications Specialist

Ebola virusAlthough the year 2014 has come and gone and the Ebola virus is no longer making national headline news, the outbreak still remains a serious health crisis, particularly in West Africa. In Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, for example, more than 21,614 cases have been reported to the World Health Organization and more than 8,594 have died as a result of the Ebola outbreak (USA Today, 2015). In the United States, 4 cases of Ebola have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including the death of a man who traveled to Dallas, Texas from Liberia. To date, no cases of Ebola have been reported to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

What is Ebola and how is it transmitted?

Discovered in 1976, Ebola is a viral infection that generally starts with a fever and progresses to a severe headache, fatigue or weakness, muscle pains, diarrhea, vomiting, bleeding, and bruising. Once a person is infected, it takes 2 to 21 days for symptoms to emerge. However, most patients exhibit symptoms within 8 to 10 days (AAP, 2015).

Although the symptoms of Ebola are similar to the flu, it is not water or airborne. Therefore, you cannot contact Ebola from a handshake or a hug. Ebola can only be transmitted through direct contact and from the bodily fluids of an infected person. These bodily fluids include urine, feces, saliva, vomit, sweat, semen, vaginal fluids, and breast milk. This means that Ebola can be spread through intravenous needles or other objects that come in direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person. Yet, unlike persons with the flu or even HIV, those who are infected with Ebola are not contagious until they start showing symptoms (DHHS, 2015).

Note: In regard to animals, the CDC recommends avoiding infected fruit bats, monkeys, and apes.

Protection from Ebola

The good news is that like most viral infections, Ebola can be eliminated with good ole soap and water, heat, bleach, or other disinfectants. Here are other ways to avoid transmission.

  • Hand washing with soap and water helps to stop the spread of many diseases, including Ebola. An alcohol-based hand sanitizer is a good alternative if soap and water are unavailable.
  • Avoid close contact with someone who is ill and certainly, avoid coming in contact with their bodily fluids.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth and disinfect commonly used surface areas like bathrooms.

Ebola and International Travel

The United States Department of Homeland Security now requires anyone traveling to the United States from Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Mali, West Africa to enter the country through the John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, the Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, the Washington Dulles International Airport in DC, the O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, or the Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport. You must also undergo an Ebola Virus Detection (EVD) screening (USDS, 2015).

An EVD involves being isolated in a room with a bathroom and closed access to a hallway or high traffic areas. You will be screened for obvious signs of Ebola infection such as a high fever, muscle pains, vomiting, etc. You will also be assessed whether you are low or high-risk depending on symptoms and possible exposure to Ebola-infected individuals. More than likely your name will be given to CDC and other health officials and further screening and treatment will be administered as determined (USDS, 2015).

For updated travel advisories visit www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/ or www.state.gov/travel/.

The Road Ahead

A team of international health professionals continue to risk their lives daily to battle this deadly disease, especially in West Africa. The United States Food and Drug Administration has not approved a vaccine for Ebola, but clinical trials and treatments are now underway. Patient recovery depends on the immediate treatment of Ebola symptoms and the patient’s immune response. Ebola antibodies last for ten years or longer in a body and it is not yet known if people can become infected with different Ebola strains. Residual complications include joint and vision problems.

In spite of current efforts to combat the Ebola virus, individuals like CDC Director Tom Frieden and Director-General of the World Health Organization Margaret Chan are optimistic that the current Ebola outbreak will be under control in 2015. Success in halting the spread of Ebola has already been demonstrated in African countries like Nigeria, Senegal, and Mali.

For continual updates on the Ebola crisis, visit the CDC’s website at http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/ or the World Health Organization at http://www.who.int/en/.


References

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2015, January 7). Ebola: What parents need to know. healthychildren.org.

Conway-Smith, E. (2015, January 21). Is this the beginning of the end of the Ebola outbreak? USA Today.

Mile, T. (2014, January 14). New Ebola cases slump in all three worst-hit countries: WHO. Reuters.

United States Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Ebola virus disease (Ebola): Algorithm for evaluation of the returned traveler. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

United States Department of Health and Human Services. (2014, November 12). Treatment. CDC: Ebola (Ebola Virus Disease).

United States Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Top 10 things you really need to know about Ebola. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

United States Department of State. (n.d.). Ebola fact sheet for travelers.