Think You Have Ebola?
While Ebola has made many local and national headlines in the last few months, the reality is that the risk to each of us is truly miniscule. Unless you have visited one the following countries recently (http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/outbreaks/2014-west-africa/distribution-map.html#areas ) or cared for someone who is infected, the risk to the average American is extremely low.
This virus is transmitted via direct contact with an infected and symptomatic person’s body fluids (blood, urine, feces, sweat, breast milk, semen and vaginal secretions). The virus can incubate from 2- 21 days before symptoms appear, although the average incubation period is 8-10 days. Once symptomatic, the patient can then potentially transmit the illness to others. The most common early symptoms are low-grade fever of 101 degrees F or below (although this typically progresses to much higher fevers later on in the illness), muscle aches, headache and nausea. The vomiting and diarrhea that often ensues can be quite profuse and often requires life-saving intravenous fluid and electrolyte (ie potassium, sodium, chloride) replacement if available. Lastly, spontaneous bleeding can also occur and may present with dark, black stools, blood in vomit or via nosebleeds or internal bleeding.
There have been questions as to whether it can be transmitted via respiratory droplets (ie coughing), but leading evidence suggests this is not the case.
While this virus was first identified in 1976 along the Ebola River in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, small and isolated outbreaks had occurred in Africa until recently. The prevailing medical opinion is that fruit bats are the likely “carriers” or reservoirs in between human outbreaks. Other non-human primates such as gorillas, baboons, chimpanzees, orangutans have been known to become infected with Ebola. For this reason, it is also recommended to avoid all contact with living or dead bats and primates in infected countries.
When looking at statistical risks, the risk of contracting seasonal Influenza is much greater than that of Ebola. For instance, during last year’s 2013-3014 Influenza season, 6.9% of all deaths in the United States were due to Influenza and/or pneumonia (http://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/news/20140110/us-flu-cases-continue-to-climb). Influenza (or “the flu”), typically peaks from October to March, although in some seasons it can present a few weeks earlier or later. Influenza symptoms typically include: fever usually 101degrees and higher (although occasionally patients present without fevers), moderate to severe muscle or joint aches, cough, headache, significant fatigue. Complications of Influenza include: pneumonia, meningitis, dehydration and even death. People most prone to complications include: age under 2 years old or over 65 years, those with asthma or other chronic lung diseases like COPD/emphysema, heart disease such as heart failure, chronic kidney disease, those with Sickle Cell Anemia, and those patients with weakened immune systems (ie cancer patients, HIV or those on meds to suppress their immune system, for instance patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease or Multiple Sclerosis). The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends every one over the age of 6months get an annual Influenza vaccine, unless contraindicated.