No, you DO NOT have Ebola!
(But also how to figure out if you might)
So with all of the news bombarding our collective senses regarding Ebola, it may be hard to know if you have a benign respiratory or gastrointestinal illness that will completely resolve in the next few day, or you have the beginnings of a deadly, exotic malady that warrants your immediate quarantine. Ebola is a truly devastating and terrible disease, doubly so since it has broken out in areas of the world without a sophisticated healthcare system to maximize containment and treatment. But, there are some facts that you need to know which will keep you better informed so that needless anxiety is kept to a minimum and we can all pull through this with our sanity intact. And once you realize that you don’t have Ebola, click here to see how you can help its victims.
I was at a party with my uncle’s coworker’s brother and he went to Africa last month and now I have a fever and body aches? I just know I have Ebola!
Ebola can only be transmitted to you if you have direct contact with the bodily fluids from someone who is not only infected with, but also showing symptoms of Ebola. By “contact”, this means that you must somehow get infected blood, saliva, vomit, or mucous into your mouth or your eyes. Plus, that fluid had to have come out of someone who was infected AND sick with symptoms. So, if that guy at the party who went to Africa 1) wasn’t sick with symptoms, 2) didn’t lick your face and 3) avoided serving at the buffet line with an open wound on his hand; then it is pretty much impossible that your fever and body aches are caused by Ebola.
But there is a confirmed case in Dallas! I live in/work in/travelled through/sometimes dream of moving to/ Dallas. How do I know that it isn’t spreading and I am coming into contact with people that have Ebola but just haven’t started showing symptoms yet?
Well, in the strictest sense, you cannot possibly know this. Why? Because people infected with Ebola don’t start showing symptoms for several days. Since the average time between infection and symptom onset is 8-10 days (maximum of 21 days has been reported) there is a chance that you have come across someone with Ebola in their body and since they didn’t know it, you didn’t know it. BUT! The case in Dallas is a person who had returned from a trip to West Africa, where Ebola is a much bigger risk than Dallas, TX. Plus, he had no symptoms-and was therefore not contagious-for the first several days after he became infected. Then, he was isolated within four days of his symptoms starting and then diagnosed as having Ebola two days later. There was not much opportunity for this one person to infect other people before the medical system clamped down on the risk. And remember, if you have somehow come across an infected person, if they haven’t started having symptoms then they cannot infect you!
I heard that Ebola virus can live outside the body. Is this true?
Yes, Ebola virus can live in human fluids outside the body, which sounds scary. No one is really sure how long but we do know that you cannot catch Ebola from a sneeze. The virus CANNOT be transmitted as an aerosol, meaning through the air. Remember SARS? That virus travels through the air and could infect people that way, making it pretty easy to catch. Ebola isn’t like that; no cough or sneeze from an Ebola-infected coworker in the office is going to give you Ebola.
I am still super concerned about Ebola and I need to know everything I can do to protect myself and my family from possibly catching this!Some simple steps to avoid Ebola infection:
- If you can, avoid travelling to where Ebola is a public health emergency, like West Africa, especially in hospitals and treatment areas, where infection is more likely than anywhere else.
- Keep your hands away from your face whenever you can. This is just good personal hygiene practice anyway, but you cannot get infected by the wet hand you just shook if you don’t touch your face before washing your hands.
- Wash, wash, wash your hands! A lot! Or at least use hand sanitizer several times a day, until you can get to a sink and wash with soap and water. Seriously, hand washing with soap and water is the best way to prevent all sorts of infections. Ebola is just one.
- Be smart! Avoid ANY close contact with anyone who has symptoms that sound like the flu or a “stomach bug”. Again, this is just good personal health practice but-along with hand washing and other personal contact precautions- it also happens to be the best way how to avoid nasty diseases like Ebola.
Okay, but what EXACTLY should I look for to know if I should get checked out for Ebola?Do the following BOTH apply to you?
- You have symptoms of fever, joint or muscle aches, weakness and fatigued, stomach pain with vomiting or diarrhea, or new bleeding from the rectum or coughing up blood.
- You have travelled to (or had DIRECT contact with someone who travelled to) West Africa, including Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, or the Democratic Republic of Congo within the last 3 weeks of those above symptoms starting.
If your answer to both of the above is YES, then YES you should get to the hospital and tell the emergency room personnel everything about the above symptoms and your travel history. The emergency room is the best place to get evaluated, treated and immediately isolated if necessary; just be smart if you go. Wash your hands. Avoid shaking hands and getting close to other people’s faces. Go to the bathroom if you feel nauseated or diarrhea coming on. Wash your hands again. And then wash them again.
Educated equals empowered, folks. Smart, informed, responsible people will keep themselves and their loved ones safe and will help prevent the spread of Ebola in the US by taking these simple but effective measures everyday. Stay engaged in your personal health. Stay vigilant and make hand washing a habit. Most of all, though: don’t panic.