Aug. 9, 2014—When an infectious disease as potentially deadly as the Ebola virus gets loose in the world, panic spreads. But experts say the vast majority of people in the U.S. have little to fear from the disease.
There are two exceptions: People—such as health care workers—caring for those who have Ebola certainly need to take precautions. In addition, people who were planning to travel to Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone for nonessential reasons should stay home until the outbreak is under control, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
But for everyone else, there’s little reason to panic, CDC said.
Ebola in Africa
The Ebola virus, named after an African river where it first appeared in 1976, causes hemorrhagic fever, an often-fatal condition marked by severe weakness, vomiting, diarrhea and bleeding. In the western and central African areas where it primarily occurs, the fatality rate of previous outbreaks has reached up to 90 percent, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
That death rate is high, in part, because there are no licensed vaccines or medications. Treatment includes supportive measures to alleviate dehydration and other symptoms.
Clearly, Ebola is serious. But unlike the flu, the Ebola virus does not spread through the air. And it’s not transmitted by way of contaminated food or water. The disease only spreads among people who are in close contact with the bodily fluids—such as blood and saliva—of an infected person.
That’s one reason health care providers in Africa working without appropriate virus-protection gear are frequently infected, according to WHO. But when proper infection-control measures are followed—in clinics, homes and elsewhere—Ebola outbreaks can be contained. To that end, CDC is assisting in education efforts and sending workers to Africa.
In the U.S., protocols to prevent the spread of illness are in place to deal with the remote possibility that an infected person enters the country unexpectedly, according to a CDC statement. In that event, the airline would alert CDC of an ill passenger before the plane even arrives. CDC would investigate and, if necessary, isolate ill travelers, according to the statement. CDC has also issued guidelines to airlines and health care workers.
|The take-home message|
|If you were planning to head to Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone, you should consider rescheduling your trip. Officials are working hard, but the risk remains, and it’s best to be cautious.
If fears about Ebola are keeping you up at night even though you’re not planning to go to Africa, this news from CDC should provide you with some respite from your worry. In the U.S., your risk of contracting the disease is low.