What You Need to Know About
Recent news of the first Ebola death in the United States is alarming. But is there any reason for Americans to fear the spread of the disease here?
Amesh Adalja, MD, an infectious disease specialist at UPMC and a senior associate at the UPMC Center for Health Security, says the risk of it spreading in the U.S. is very low because it can only be transmitted under specific conditions.
“Ebola is a deadly disease, it’s a scary disease, but it’s not very contagious. It doesn’t spread through the air; it only spreads through intimate contact with blood or body fluids,” says Dr. Adalja.
“It is far less contagious than the flu — a respiratory virus easily spread by sneezing and coughing. Also, Ebola is only contagious when a person has symptoms. With the flu, a person is contagious the day before symptoms appear.”
Although the risk of Ebola spreading is low, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other agencies have taken steps to prevent that from happening in this country. That includes increased airport screenings before and after entering the United States from Ebola-affected countries. In addition, the CDC has issued Level 3 travel warnings urging U.S. residents to avoid nonessential travel to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone in West Africa.
Protocols also have been established to ensure health care facilities are prepared to properly detect and handle the disease. UPMC facilities are ready, says Dr. Adalja. Each hospital in our system has comprehensive and detailed action plans in place.
“We know how to stop the spread of Ebola. But it’s crucial for hospitals to prepare in advance,” he says. “UPMC has easily accessible protocols from the moment a patient arrives in the Emergency Department through their hospital stay — how we screen that person, how we isolate that person, how we test for it, who we communicate with — it’s all laid out.”
About the 2014 Epidemic
According to the CDC, the 2014 outbreak is the largest in history and the first documented appearance in West Africa. About half the people who contracted the virus have died. In the U.S., the Texas patient who had recently traveled from Liberia died on Oct. 8.
- A person infected with Ebola is not contagious until symptoms appear.
- Symptoms of Ebola may appear anywhere from two to 21 days after exposure, but the average is eight to 10 days.
- Early symptoms include:
o Fever (higher than 101.5° F)
o Stomach pain
o Muscle pain
o Unexplained bleeding or bruising
How Ebola Spreads
Ebola is spread through direct contact with:
- Blood and body fluids (urine, feces, saliva, vomit, sweat, and semen) from a person sick with the disease; and
- Items contaminated by blood or body fluids from an infected patient, like needles, medical equipment, clothing, or bedding.
Are You at Risk?
If you’ve traveled to an area with an outbreak, or had close contact with someone sick with the disease, you may be at risk. The CDC recommends that you:
- Check for signs and symptoms for 21 days.
- Take your temperature every morning and evening.
- Call your doctor — even if you do not have symptoms — to evaluate your exposure level and consult with public health authorities to determine if any actions are needed.
- Continue normal activities, including going to work, while you are symptom-free.
If You Get Sick after Travel to an At-Risk Area
- Get medical care immediately if you develop a fever (higher than 101.5° F).
- Alert your doctor about your recent travel to West Africa, or contact with a person sick with Ebola, and symptoms before you go to a doctor’s office or emergency department. Calling ahead will help the doctor or emergency department care for you — and protect others.