According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as of December 7, 2014, more than 17,942 cases of Ebola have been confirmed. Most of these have been in West Africa (Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone) where almost 6,388 people have died from Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).
Recently, I attended a lecture at The Commonwealth Medical College, by Shubhra Shetty, MD, Associate Regional Dean of The Commonwealth Medical College and Infectious Disease Specialist and was surprised how much I did not know about EVD. Consequently, with the help of Dr. Shetty, I decided to refute the many “myths” about EVD.
While not restricting travel to the entire continent of Africa, the CDC has issued a strong alert, known as a Level 3 Warning, for US citizens to avoid nonessential travel to those countries in Africa where the outbreak of EVD has been most prevalent; Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Also, a Level 2 Warning has been issued for travel to Mali and the Democratic Republic of the Congo where minor outbreaks have been reported.
Direct physical contact with someone infected with EVD will not necessarily result in the spread of the disease unless there is contact with the body fluids of an infected person. The Ebola virus can only be contracted through contact with body fluids. Body fluids most likely to spread the disease are: infected blood, stool, vomit, breast milk, urine, semen, tears and saliva.
Unless you experience direct contact with the body fluids of an infected person, you cannot contract EVD simply by breathing the same air as someone with the disease. However, if a person with EVD is within close proximity and sneezes in your face, you can contract EVD. Furthermore, infected needles or contact with other objects containing infected body fluids will place you at high risk regardless of your location.
Persons with EVD are only contagious when they have active symptoms. Those who are symptom free and fully recovered from the disease are no longer contagious. Symptoms can appear between 2 and 21 days, however, they usually appear within 7 -10 days. Early symptoms are: fever, muscle ache, headache, and sore throat. It often resembles malaria, typhoid fever or the flu. Later symptoms are: vomiting, diarrhea, internal bleeding and bleeding from the eyes, nose, ears and mouth.
However, there are two exceptions: the virus has been found to be active in semen and breast milk of infected persons for up to three months. Therefore, it is recommended that infected men use a condom and infected women avoid using their breast milk for up to 3 months following infection.
In a laboratory study, scientists discovered that the Ebola virus could survive up to 6 days. However, the study was performed in controlled and ideal conditions. Experts believe that the virus would last for 24 hours in hospital-type settings which utilized proper sanitizing techniques. The good news is household grade bleach has been found to effectively kill the Ebola virus.
Reflexively, the first thought that comes to mind is the fact that EVD is usually fatal, and therefore poses a greater threat to our health than the flu. Furthermore, there is no approved drug to vaccinate or treat EVD as exists for the flu. However, the fact remains that it is very unlikely that you will ever contract EVD. In fact, unless you have traveled to a location where there is an active outbreak or you have been exposed to bodily fluids of someone with active symptoms, your chances of contracting EVD is almost zero.
Scientists feel that African Fruit Bats are natural hosts of the Ebola virus and these bats may have spread EVD to other animals in Africa. When humans handle and/or eat the raw meat from the infected animals, they contract EVD.
Presently, scientists are working on two experimental vaccines. However, they have not been approved for public use because the safety and efficacy of these vaccines has yet to be determined.
While approximately 50% of people with EVD die, survivors develop antibodies which protect them. However, these antibodies offer protection against THAT PARTICULAR STRAIN of Ebola for at least 10 years. It is possible that the survivor could be infected by a different strain of Ebola.
The healthcare workers who contracted EVD in Liberia were treated successfully with an experimental drug called ZMapp. However, ZMapp has not been approved for public use due to the lack of solid scientific evidence to prove its safety and effectiveness. Other studies have found encouraging results when treating EVD by using the serum from survivors.
Medical Contributor: Shubhra Shetty, MD, Associate Regional Dean of The Commonwealth Medical College and Infectious Disease Specialist.
Sources: www.webmd.com; The World Health Organization (WHO), The Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.
Keep moving, eat healthy foods, exercise regularly, and live long and well!
NEXT MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum in the Scranton Times-Tribune.”
This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: email@example.com
Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at The Commonwealth Medical College.