Text by Dr. Nina Radcliff/Photos by K. Cecchini
Americans remain understandably guarded when it comes to Ebola. The confidence in our country’s ability to fight the virus took some hits—a missed communication; two nurses contracting the virus while caring for a dying man; and the returning doctor moving freely around a densely populated city. Our concerns turned to fear in some situations.
Over the course of the past few weeks I have been called upon by media to speak on Ebola. While continuing to research intensively, I have been able to gain a wider range of insights firsthand and have spoken on panels with contagious disease experts including Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID).
As the medical community –and related agencies –continue to work tirelessly and diligently to fight this deadly virus at every level, there must be a core understanding that the American public does not understand all the science. Thus, it is our medical community’s responsibility to continue to present the facts. It is through these ongoing candid discussions that we will attain a better collective understanding of the Ebola virus and how our healthcare and public health systems—the best in the world—will continue to adapt, fight, and win the battles.
Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know: About Ebola, today
What symptoms does Ebola cause? Fever, vomiting, diarrhea, severe headache, fatigue, and bleeding or bruising.
How do you catch Ebola? Via bodily fluids from an infected person—blood, vomit, sweat, feces, urine, saliva—into our nose, eyes, mouth, or break in skin. Unlike the seasonal flu or tuberculosis, there is no evidence that there is airborne spread—when germs float through the air after a person talks or coughs.
Can I catch Ebola from a sneeze? Large droplets of respiratory secretions (e.g., a sneeze) from a very sick person with Ebola could be infectious. This puts healthcare workers squarely at risk, but should not cause concern to the general public.
Can I catch Ebola from someone who looks healthy, but later tests positive?
Ebola is transmitted from person to person when there are symptoms. And as a person grows sicker, the infectiousness grows exponentially—the level of virus spikes in the bloodstream and the amount of secretions increases (vomiting, diarrhea).
Are there any drugs or vaccines? A number of new drugs and vaccines are in the pipeline, but at this time, we do not have any. In 2015, we will begin to see several weapons in our arsenal to help in the fight. Right now, we must continue to do what works: diagnose, support, and isolate.
How do we treat a person with Ebola? Supportive care consisting of intravenous fluids and electrolytes to replace losses from vomiting, diarrhea, and sweating, as well as experimental medications. Plasma transfusions from someone who was infected, and survived, contain antibodies against Ebola. If given to someone who is sick, these antibodies are ready to fight the virus until the patient can produce their own. It’s like giving a head start.
How did the nurses become infected in Dallas? What you wear matters, but just as important is how you put it on and take it off. The adage “more is better” does not necessarily hold when it comes to preventing Ebola transmission. It is believed that using more than two gloves and too much tape made it difficult to remove the gear safely. New guidelines address these weaknesses.
Should we ban flights? Although this may seem logical, doing so will hinder our ability to transport resources and aid workers within the region. Additionally, it could lead to people entering our country underground and elude any sort of monitoring. This would provide a false sense of security, not immunity, from Ebola. When flights were grounded after the 9/11 plane crashes, the seasonal flu, a contagious illness, still landed on American soil.
Are quarantines appropriate? Supportive measures of quarantine make good sense but need to be based on science, not fear. Recent CDC Guidelines take into consideration the person’s risk of exposure. While we maintain the public’s safety, we must also consider that unfounded decisions or treating humanitarians like criminals may affect their decision to travel to and fight the war in West Africa. Our decisions need to continue to remain under review—every step of the way—to take necessary actions for effective, sensible interventions.
What is my risk for Ebola? Frankly, the seasonal flu is much more serious to the US population today. Flu-related illnesses have killed far more Americans in the last year—with the estimated count into the thousands. Ebola’s death total is one, to date.
How deadly is Ebola? In the United States, when Ebola is diagnosed early, people live. This is in comparison to the 60-90% mortality seen in West Africa. Our advanced healthcare system makes this a different ballgame. Take for example dehydration. This is a leading cause of death amongst children in third world countries, but is virtually unheard of in the US.
Our war against the Ebola virus is one that must be fought and won in West Africa. Until then, we will continue to see isolated cases arrive in the United States. It will require a complex and layered strategy, and there may be setbacks. But with continued, candid discussion, we will learn to deal with Ebola…as a new normal, but one that can be treated.
Notice: This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither Dr. Nina Radcliff or Kimberly Cecchini take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.
Before engaging in any complementary medical technique, including the use of natural or herbal remedies, you should be aware that many of these techniques have not been evaluated in scientific studies. Use of these remedies in connection with over the counter or prescription medications can cause severe adverse reactions. Often, only limited information is available about their safety and effectiveness.