The Ebola virus: What you need to know

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It isn’t quite full-on flu season yet, but the past few months have been full of headlines about infectious diseases.

Close to home, first there was Enterovirus D68, which is an ongoing concern as it has spread across the country, affecting scores of children. Banner Health has placed some visitor restrictions as a result of this virus, to proactively protect patients, visitors and staff.

More recently, one person who contracted the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa, where thousands of people have been infected, and has claimed the lives of more than 3,000, died in the United States and several are being treated in various parts of the country.

So the question that naturally crops up on so many people’s mind is: do I need to be worried about Ebola?

While any Ebola case being reported in the U.S. can cause us to be anxious, the U.S. has greater capabilities and technology available to us for preventing the spread of this disease than in West Africa.

So here are the main things to keep in mind: Ebola is not spread through the air or by water, or in general, by food. It cannot be transmitted through breathing or just being in the same room with someone who is infected.

Ebola is spread through direct contact (such as through broken skin) with:

  • blood or body fluids (such as urine, saliva, sweat, feces, vomit, breast milk and semen) of a person who is sick with Ebola
  • objects such as needles and syringes contaminated with the virus
  • infected animals

Ebola is only contagious if the infected person has signs and symptoms of illness, which, according to the CDC, include:

  • Fever (greater than 100.4°F or 38°C)
  • Severe headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Weakness
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal (stomach) pain
  • Unexplained hemorrhage (bleeding or bruising)

On average, the symptoms are seen eight to 10 days after exposure.

If you or someone you know is traveling to a region where Ebola transmission is occurring:

  • Avoid contact with sick individuals
  • Wash hands frequently
  • Monitor your temperature daily for 21 days after returning from travel
    • If you develop a temperature and/or symptoms of Ebola, stay at home and call your personal care physician for further instructions.
    • If emergency care is needed, call the emergency room to report travel history prior to arrival.

Being cautious, educated and prepared is always a good thing. And remember the basics: to always watch out and wash your hands frequently.

 

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