August 13th, 2014-US Ebola Threat Remains Low
The recent and deadly outbreak of Ebola in West Africa—the worst in history—has seized the world’s attention, along with the news that two Americans infected with the virus were brought to the United States for treatment. As the death toll creeps past 1,000, concerned citizens are assessing their risk and exploring preventive measures.
But U.S. residents should remain calm: There have been no reported cases in the United States aside from the two Americans who contracted the virus while in Africa. The outbreak is currently centered in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
What Are the Symptoms?
Ebola is an acute viral illness characterized by the sudden onset of fever, debilitating weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. People often confuse the illness’ early symptoms with cold or flu symptoms. The disease incubates in the sufferer’s body for between two and 21 days, and victims become contagious once they present symptoms.
As it progresses, Ebola causes vomiting, diarrhea, rashes, impaired kidney and liver function, and internal and external bleeding, particularly from the mouth, ears and eyes.
How Can I Protect Myself?
There is no vaccine for Ebola, although experts are currently testing several options. While the two infected Americans received experimental treatments, it’s not clear whether the medicines could be made widely available. The lack of a viable vaccine is made all the more troubling due to the disease’s high mortality rate—anywhere from 50 to 90 percent.
Ebola is spread by contact with the bodily fluids and organs of infected animals, many of which are not native to the United States. Humans contracted the disease in Africa after touching infected animals in the rain forest.
After humans are infected, Ebola can spread to other humans via contact with their bodily fluids, including saliva, sweat, blood and vomit. Ebola is not a respiratory disease like the flu, so it is not transmitted through the air. Nor can Ebola be contracted through contaminated food or water. People can only get Ebola from touching the bodily fluids of a person or animal that is sick with or has died from Ebola, or from exposure to contaminated objects, such as needles.
Right now, the best way to avoid contracting Ebola is simply to avoid unessential travel to the affected countries. While it is possible that Ebola could surface in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calls that scenario remote, and is assisting with active screening and education efforts on the ground in West Africa to prevent sick travelers from getting on planes.
The CDC has provided guidance to U.S. airlines for managing ill passengers and crew and for disinfecting aircraft. It has also provided guidance to U.S. health care workers explaining how they can protect themselves from infection and how to test and isolate suspected patients.