Greetings Nature N3rdlings,
I’ve seen a lot of posts on social networking about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and how it has landed in other countries. I’ve seen everything from scientific perspectives to “WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!”
The biggest concern I have seen is the lack of knowledge and some irrational fear that is present in some of the posts.
With any emergency situation, whether it be natural disaster, civil unrest or epidemic, it’s important to stay calm and rational. Make sure to gather facts and weed out supposition.
As a member of the local CERT team, it is part of my responsibilities to help educate and guide people through disasters. This is no exception.
To help calm this down, let’s go over what Ebola is and how it is transmitted. I’ll use official sources of information to keep supposition and hearsay out of the conversation.
What is Ebola HF?
Ebola HF is a highly aggressive viral infection. When I say aggressive, that is only in respect to how fast it infects the host, not in how well it spreads. On average, symptoms begin 8-10 days after infection, but can be as soon as 2 days.
In comparison, Ebola is not quite as aggressive as Influenza. The Flu, on average, shows symptoms in 1-4 days after infection.
Ebola is not quite as aggressive as The Flu, but still fairly aggressive.
This is important because it allows doctors to identify infected individuals quickly. This is vital in containment efforts. The infected can be identified and quarantined (usually) before spreading the virus to others. Although, this short time frame is obviously bad for the infected person.
Those infected have a 60% fatality rate.
There are no known treatments for Ebola infections.
What are the Symptoms?
The symptoms of Ebola are not pretty. Here is the list of symptoms from the CDC:
Symptoms of Ebola HF typically include:
- Joint and muscle aches
- Stomach pain
- Lack of appetite
Some patients may experience:
- A Rash
- Red Eyes
- Sore throat
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Bleeding inside and outside of the body
The difficult part of diagnosing Ebola infection is the similarities the symptoms have with other infections. To fight against that factor, when doctors see symptoms that are anywhere near the above list, they are now asking about the patient’s travel history. If they have been anywhere near the Ebola epidemic, they start treating it as a possible Ebola infection. It’s better to be safe than sorry in this case.
How Would Someone Contract Ebola?
The good news in all of this is that contracting Ebola is fairly difficult. It is only transmitted though touching bodily fluids of an infected person or exposure to a contaminated object (like a needle). It is not airborne nor it is digestible.
The other facet that makes it harder to contract is that it only become contagious when symptoms appear. So if someone is infected, but not expressing symptoms, then they cannot transmit the virus.
The bad news is that Ebola can live on infected objects and in infected fluids for several days outside of the host. This tends to be a major issue when it comes to containment. Since the virus can survive outside the host for extended periods of time, it becomes crucial to keep the infected contained and not allow them or any of their infected objects or fluids to escape quarantine.
How Do You Protect Yourself?
The best protection is to stay away from areas that have known infections. If you suspect anyone may have Ebola in your area, please advise them to see a doctor immediately.
Please do not accuse anyone of being infected until it is confirmed. You do not want to spread any panic. The panic is worse. It will hurt more people and can make containment efforts more difficult.
The only caveat to the above is if someone is expressing symptoms of Ebola, has recently traveled to West Africa, and refuses to see a doctor. The CDC has this recommendation:
If you or your family members become ill with fever or develop other symptoms such as chills, muscle
aches, nausea, vomiting, or rash, visit a health-care provider immediately and inform them that you may
have been in contact with someone with Marburg hemorrhagic fever. The nearest U.S. Embassy or
Consular Office can help you find a provider in the area. You are encouraged to identify these resources
in advance. When traveling to a health-care provider, limit your contact with others. All other travel
should be avoided.
Ebola dies when exposed to boiling temperatures for 5 minutes. This can help with sterilizing objects if you suspect an object has been exposed to Ebola.
If you want more facts, please visit the CDC’s website on the Ebola virus. It is updated regularly by health professionals and not reporters or, to be fair, bloggers like me.
I also found a lot of information on the Canadian Public Health Agency site.
Again, I want to help clear up any misconceptions about Ebola. This is meant as a service announcement to help prevent irrational behavior. Once we are able to remove panic and irrational thinking we can then start helping those who are at risk, preventing any further infections.
UPDATE – 10/1/14
Since there has been a confirmed case of Ebola in Dallas, I have been getting a lot more traffic to this article.
I wanted to update this with another info graphic from the CDC for Health Care professionals on how to protect yourself if you think you are dealing with an Ebola case (click to view):
If you need to get some face masks and gloves, you can find them on Amazon here:
3M 8511 Particulate N95 Respirator with Valve, 10-Pack
Liberty T2010W Nitrile Industrial Glove, Powder Free, Disposable, 4 mil Thickness, Large, Blue (Box of 100)
Again, please don’t panic or go overboard. The above supplies are just a precaution. In almost any situation I’d recommend that your first-aid kit or B.O.B. have N95 Face Masks and Nitrile Gloves (these are standard issue in our CERT kits).
UPDATE – 10/15/14
Another confirmed case of Ebola in Dallas.
The current tally of Ebola cases in Dallas is now at 3. But this has sparked a huge uproar on social media. So I thought I’d list out a few misconceptions that I’m seeing a lot of:
Q: Can Ebola become airborne?
A: Highly unlikely. Viruses can mutate and can take on any number of attributes due to a mutation. So whereas becoming airborne is possible, it’s just as possible for it to become neon colored or taste like chocolate. W.H.O. scientists “…are unaware of any virus that has dramatically changed its mode of transmission.”
Q: How did the hospital staff catch Ebola if they wore the protective gear/suits?
A: No suit is fool proof. Also, if any of the infected fluids made it out of the quarantine zone, then it can be touched without knowing and if there is a method to get into the blood stream, then it can infect. Bottom line is, every nurse and doctor on the planet knows that protective gear is just a preventative measure, it is not a force field. And even if the suit does it’s job there are countless ways the virus can escape the confines of the quarantine.
Q: Why aren’t the hospital staff under quarantine?
A: That one, I don’t know for sure.
Q: Why did the 2nd hospital worker board an airplane if she had been exposed?
A: Again, I don’t know. Although I would expect that a hospital professional would know about the incubation period and not take the risk of locking herself up with several people in a small metal tube.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The 2nd hospital worker was on the flight one day before she started showing symptoms. That means while there is a possibility that she left infectious fluids on the airplane, it’s a low probability. That is because Ebola is only contagious once the host starts showing symptoms.
Please don’t panic. Use the facts to stay safe and to keep your loved ones safe.
Edit – I noted above that there is no known treatment for Ebola. Although the vaccine is being worked on. Also, there is experimental treatments using anti-bodies of people who have beaten Ebola on their own. Ms Pham (the first person to catch Ebola on U.S. soil) received a plasma transfusion from Dr. Brantly (who has beaten Ebola that he caught in West Africa). Please note, that these are not known for sure to work in all cases (or even most). It’s still considered experimental and is also contingent on having compatible blood type with someone who has beaten Ebola.
Just know that treatments are being worked on and studied. Ebola can be beat, it’s just a matter of time.
There seems to be a lot of confusion around the transmission of Ebola and if it is, or is not, an airborne pathogen.
The short answer is: It is NOT an airborne pathogen.
The confusion, at least what I’ve noticed, is that some people consider things like a sneeze a method of being “airborne.” That is a layman’s definition. As with all things, certain fields of study may use a definition of a thing that is not common. This is one of those times.
In the medical world, this is the definition of Airborne Transmission:
Airborne transmission refers to situations where droplet nuclei (residue from evaporated droplets) or dust particles containing microorganisms can remain suspended in air for long periods of time. These organisms must be capable of surviving for long periods of time outside the body and must be resistant to drying. Airborne transmission allows organisms to enter the upper and lower respiratory tracts. Fortunately, only a limited number of diseases are capable of airborne transmission.
Diseases capable of airborne transmission include:
Source: Mount Sinai Department of Micobiology
Please note that while Ebola may be transmittable via the droplets in a sneeze, once it’s dry, the pathogen no longer has a mode of transport. That is a major factor in airborne vs non-airborne transmission.
Be Smart and Be Safe.