Ebola Scare: Stay informed but don’t panic
Rapid air travel and the fact that the development of observable symptoms appear days or even weeks after exposure have increased the potential for international transmission of contagious and often deadly diseases like the Ebola hemorrhagic fever.
As of last week, almost 9,000 people have been infected by Ebola and the death toll has risen to more than 4,000. If there is no improvement in the situation, the World Health Organization projects that Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people by November.
But while the present outbreaks are concentrated in Guinea. Sierra Leone, Senegal, Liberia and Nigeria the possibility of the virus entering the Philippines is huge considering that air travel has played its part in spreading the virus beyond West Africa (Spain has one, the United States has two while Germany has three confirmed cases). Moreover, there are over 1,700 Filipinos working in these Ebola-affected countries.
No specific treatment
Discovered in 1976, Ebola is caused by a virulent virus and has no specific treatment at this time. Experimental vaccines and treatments for Ebola are under development, but they have not yet been fully tested for safety or effectiveness, according to Dr. Lyndon Lee Suy, manager of the Department of Health’s Emerging and Re-emerging Infectious Diseases Program.
To improve patient’s chance of survival, the only option is to make sure that he/she is given intravenous fluids and his/her electrolytes (body salts) balanced, maintaining oxygen status and blood pressure, and treat other infections if they occur.
The outbreak in West Africa is the world’s deadliest to date and it is creating psychological reactions around the world as people try to process the threat. Worst, fear and misinformation seem to be spreading faster than this disease.
Right now, being informed on Ebola risks is perhaps the best guard against panic, Lee Suy reminded the public. Here are some important reminders from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the DOH:
1. There is no risk unless the person has had recent travel to affected areas of West Africa or direct, close contact with patients infected with Ebola. In this regard, be vigilant if you feel sick after having close contact with a traveler from West Africa.
2. Ebola can incubate for 21 days in someone before it becomes symptomatic. This means a person might be harboring the virus as he or she hops on a plane and no one would be able to detect it.
3. Ebola is difficult to diagnose in its early stage because early symptoms are also symptoms of other diseases such as malaria and typhoid fever. However, since Ebola is most contagious when the person is symptomatic, watch out for someone suffering from fever, sweating along with body aches and pains, vomiting, and having uncontrollable diarrhea. Bleeding is seldom observed so don’t believe what Hollywood has projected in its movies (in a number of movies, Ebola virus strikes everyone in its path and causes them to hemorrhage from their eyeballs, ears and mouth until there is no more blood to spill).
4. An accurate test for Ebola can only be done a few days after the onset of symptoms. The most accurate of these is likely the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, a technique that looks for genetic material from the virus and creates enough copies of it that it can be detected. Another test is the antigen capture enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (Elisa), which looks for antibodies produced by the body’s immune system in response to the virus. However, this test can take even longer than three days to give a positive result for an infected person.
5. Unlike flu or pneumonia, Ebola is a difficult disease to contract since direct contact with the bodily fluids of another Ebola patient is needed. By “direct contact,” this means bodily fluids such as vomit, excrement, semen, sweat or blood, will need to get into the broken skin (such as a scratch or wound) or onto one’s mucous membranes (mouth, nose, eyes, sex organ).
6. Since Ebola virus can also live for a few hours on surfaces, and up to a few days in blood outside of the body, the risk of getting Ebola by touching a contaminated surface is high. However, you will need to put or rub your hands in your mouth or eyes for transmission to occur (which is why frequent washing of hands or the use of hand sanitizer is advised).
7. Should one exhibit symptoms of Ebola, the DOH has designated the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Alabang, Muntinlupa City; Lung Center of the Philippines in Quezon City; and the San Lazaro Hospital in Manila to receive and treat symptomatic cases of Ebola.
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