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October 9, 2014

An Ebola Primer

Patricia A. Kelly

It wasn’t going anywhere but Africa. Authorities were trying to keep everyone calm, of course, so we wouldn’t all run to the hospital.


Calm is good. Educated is better.


The most reassuring thing about Ebola is that you have to catch it from an actually sick person who has been in contact with another actually sick or dead person who had it, or from germs directly left by an actually sick person. There is a slight possibility that the actually sick person’s dog could become a carrier. In Africa, you might also get it from a fruit bat, or another wild animal. Isolation precautions should be taken with any animal in West Africa.


In the U.S. there is very little risk, except from travelers and their contacts, or from healthcare providers of Ebola patients and their contacts. A healthcare worker who follows isolation protocol should be fine.


The isolation protocol basically involves covering and sealing yourself into a suit, mask, gloves and boots, and then caring for the patient. A helper might decontaminate the outside of you, but, most important, you peel off your protective gear very carefully without touching the outside of it. Your suit, including the gloves, ends up in an inside out ball that is disposed of by your second-gloved hands in a hazardous waste container, and then you wash up.


Ebola is transmitted by droplets, as are many commonly known infections, such as cold, flu, meningitis, mumps, whooping cough, rubella and strep throat. The germs are not floating in the air unless someone sprays you by coughing, sneezing or spitting; so, you’re actually pretty safe if you’re three feet away from them. You should avoid touching contaminated surfaces, especially their hands, too. Always be sure to wash your hands afterward before touching your own face.


The Ebola virus can be killed by most germicides, including a weak bleach solution. It can live for hours or even days outside the body, but its’ best chance is on a hard surface in a dark, cool place. On a cotton cloth in the sun, it dies pretty quickly.


Symptoms of Ebola begin with fever, fatigue, muscle pain, headache, and sore throat, any time from two-to-21 days after exposure. Later symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, kidney and liver failure, internal or external bleeding.


There is no medical cure, but treatment helps the body be strong enough to fight. It’s a virus, so antibiotics can’t cure it, but they might be given for other infections that occur due to weakness. The main treatment is fluids, electrolytes and oxygen.


So, what should we be doing?


People who arrive in the U.S. from West Africa should be screened, and give contact information to authorities. They should be told who to call if they get sick, to take their temperature twice a day and to report in.


We should all get flu shots, more than ever, because the symptoms are very similar. The less flu, the less fear. The less fear, the fewer trips to the hospital. The fewer trips to the hospital, the fewer infections. Flu is also way more likely to kill you in America than Ebola, by the way.


When you are sick, stay home. For a normal viral sickness, one does not need medical treatment except rest and fluids. A healthy person can vomit quite a number of times and get better without medical attention. Don’t go to work. Don’t go out and give people your cold and flu. Don’t go to the hospital and risk getting other people's colds and flu unless you really need to see a doctor for your condition. If you go out and you are coughing or sneezing, wear a mask and keep your hands clean. Call your doctor’s office for personal advice, especially if you are not healthy.


Wash your hands. If you are around a sick person, or even sick yourself, wash your hands before you touch your face, and before and after going to the bathroom. (There are mucous membranes down there, too!) Cover your coughs and sneezes with tissue or by putting your nose under your elbow. Throw the tissue away safely, and wash your hands.


Here is how you wash your hands: (in a public place)


Put a paper towel under your arm.


Run warm water.


Wash, including your palms, the back of your hands, between your fingers and your fingertips, thoroughly, long enough to sing Happy Birthday twice.


Pull the paper towel out from under your arm and turn off the faucet.


Dry your hands with a clean paper towel.


Use a paper towel to open the door.  Hold the door open with your foot while throwing the towel into the trash.


Sleep enough, eat well, de-stress and exercise to keep your immune system strong.


It’s a long story, I know. I hope you read to the end. Most important, everything said here is, not only how to protect yourself from Ebola, but how to avoid sickness generally. Ebola is just more deadly than a cold.


Relax, take care, and be well. You really are safe.



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