Guidelines on Ebola Protection
With the Ebola virus drawing concerns in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have distributed informational briefs for the public.
“Ebola is a serious virus that can spread if precautions are not taken but it is not as easy to catch as the national news coverage may suggest,” says Patty Hinrichs, Grinnell Regional Public Health director. “We want to educate the public on what to watch for and, most important, how to avoid contracting the virus.”
The CDC provides these guidelines.
Ebola is only transferred through contact with bodily fluids such as sweat, saliva, urine, feces, semen, vomit, or blood. This means that an individual must actually come in contact with bodily fluids from an individual who is infected, their used linens or clothing, or a used needle syringe, for example. Ebola is not spread through the air, water, food, or casual contact.
“Some viruses that are transferred through the air include seasonal flu, pertussis (whooping cough), rubella, mumps, measles, bacterial meningitis, among other heavy hitting illnesses. We have developed vaccines against these illnesses because they are easily spread,” Hinrichs says.
At this time, there is no FDA-approved vaccine to address the Ebola virus. Therefore, prevention through hygiene is the best strategy to avoid the virus.
Avoid travel to countries where the Ebola virus is present.
If you have come in contact with an individual who has traveled to an area with the Ebola virus, follow these guidelines:
Practice careful hygiene. For example, wash your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and avoid contact with blood and body fluids.
Infected people typically don’t become contagious until they develop symptoms. Family members are often infected as they care for sick relatives or prepare the dead for burial.
Medical personnel can be infected if they don’t use protective gear, such as surgical masks and gloves. Medical centers in Africa are often so poor that they must reuse needles and syringes.
Do not handle items that may have come in contact with an infected person’s blood or body fluids (such as clothes, bedding, needles, and medical equipment).
Avoid contact with bats and nonhuman primates or blood, fluids, and raw meat prepared from these animals.
Avoid hospitals in West Africa where Ebola patients are being treated. The U.S. embassy or consulate is often able to provide advice on facilities.
After you return, monitor your health for 21 days and seek medical care immediately if you develop symptoms of Ebola.
Symptoms of Ebola include
Fever (greater than 38.6°C or 101.5°F)
Abdominal (stomach) pain
Unexplained hemorrhage (bleeding or bruising)
Symptoms may appear anywhere from two to 21 days after exposure to Ebola, but the average is 8 to 10 days.
Recovery from Ebola depends on good supportive clinical care and the patient’s immune response. People who recover from Ebola infection develop antibodies that last for at least 10 years.
“Since these symptoms also are common for many other illnesses – viral and bacterial – the public must self-evaluate their risk exposure. Unless an individual has traveled to or met with someone who has been in an Ebola-infected area, the risk is probably low,” Hinrich says.
“However, if you are at an increased level of risk you need to be honest with all healthcare workers and explain your risk immediately. To avoid further exposures to the virus, healthcare workers will need to have proper protective gear when caring for a suspected Ebola infected patient.”
Individuals who are at high risk and have symptoms must not enter healthcare facilities without proper notification. Most medical clinics and facilities will want these patients to enter an isolation area. Before arriving at a healthcare facility, call the clinician and explain your risk and symptoms.
If a person does not develop symptoms after 21 days of the exposure, they will not become sick with Ebola.
Good hygiene practices include staying home until a person is symptom free for 48 hours. This is good common sense for any illness but especially contagious illnesses.
Common questions and answers about Ebola are available at http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/outbreaks/2014-west-africa/qa.html.