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Ebola: The Risk is Low

ebola cdcAccording to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), the first case of Ebola in the United States was laboratory-confirmed on September 30, 2014, in specimens obtained from a man named Thomas Eric Duncan, who had traveled to Dallas, Texas from West Africa. Although Duncan did not have symptoms before leaving West Africa, he developed them approximately four days after his arrival in the U.S.

He sought medical attention at Texas Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas after experiencing Ebola-like symptoms. Based on his travel history and symptoms, the CDC recommended the hospital test for Ebola while Duncan awaited results in an isolated medical facility. Lab specimens tested at the CDC and also at a Texas laboratory confirmed Ebola in Duncan, who died on October 8.ebola doctorThe World Health Organization (WHO) and the CDC offer these key facts about Ebola:

  • Formerly known as Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola is a severe, often fatal illness in humans.
  • Ebola was first discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since then, outbreaks have appeared sporadically in Africa.
  • The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission.
    • Blood or bodily fluids (including but not limited to urine, saliva, sweat, feces, vomit, breast milk, and semen) of a person who is sick with Ebola
    • Objects (such needles and syringes), which have been contaminated with the virus
  • Ebola is not spread through the air or by water, or in general, by food. However, in Africa, Ebola may be spread as a result of handling bush meat (wild animals hunted for food) and during contact with infected bats.

o   There is no evidence that mosquitos or other insects can transmit Ebola.

o   Only mammals (for example, humans, bats, monkeys, and apes) have shown the ability to become infected with and spread the Ebola virus.

  • There are five identified Ebola virus species, four of which are known to spread the disease in humans.
  • Ebola has an incubation period of up to 21 days.
  • The average fatality rate is around 50%. (Case fatality rates have varied from 25% to 90% in past outbreaks.)
  • Community engagement is key to successfully controlling outbreaks. Good outbreak control relies on applying a package of interventions, namely case management, surveillance and contact tracing, a good laboratory service, safe burials and social mobilization.
  • Early supportive care with rehydration, symptomatic treatment improves survival. There is as yet no licensed treatment proven to neutralize the virus. But a range of blood, immunological and drug therapies are under development.
  • There are currently no licensed Ebola vaccines but two potential candidates are undergoing evaluation.

Unfortunately, several associated Ebola scares have alerted Americans to the risk of contracting the deadly disease. Two nurses at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital who treated Mr. Duncan — Nina Pham and Amber Joy Vinson — have contracted Ebola. Since one of them traveled on at least two planes before being diagnosed, and cruise ship passengers were exposed to an airline worker described as being “tangentially at risk,” hundreds were potentially infected and are currently being monitored. Although officials have not determined exactly how Pham and Vinson became infected, they have focused on their use of personal protective gear, and have called for meticulous protective practices and stringent infection control for treating future patients.

In response to all of the above, Pentagon officials announced the formation of a 30-person military medical team to respond to future Ebola cases in the United States and “provide short-notice assistance to civilian medical professionals.”

While any case of Ebola diagnosed in the United States naturally raises concerns, and even one death is too many, there are a myriad of other health scares that pose a far greater risk than that of Ebola. In fact, the risk of catching Ebola is still far less than the risk of dying from the flu, which kills an average 36,000 people each year.

In fact, Matthew Herper of Forbes Magazine asserts that, “For anyone who is not a healthcare worker treating an Ebola patient, the risk of (contracting Ebola) is probably zero. The news that a potentially exposed health care worker who had gone on a cruise ship was, in fact, not infected, should drive this fact home.”

The Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Paul Offit, agrees: “This is not influenza or measles. It’s not spread by the respiratory route. If you’re sitting next to someone on a plane, you’re not going to catch it. People should take note of the fact that Duncan’s family never got sick.”

But what about if you are traveling to an area affected by an Ebola outbreak? In this case, the FDA recommends the following five precautions:

  1. Practice careful hygiene. For example, wash your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and avoid contact with blood and bodily fluids.
  2. Do not handle items that may have come in contact with an infected person’s blood or bodily fluids (such as clothes, bedding, needles, and medical equipment).
  3. Avoid contact with bats and nonhuman primates or blood, fluids, and raw meat prepared from these animals.
  4. 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.
  5. After you return, monitor your health for 21 days and seek medical care immediately if you develop symptoms of Ebola.

In response to public concern, our strategic partner, Universal Protection Services, is alerting clients and employees about signs and symptoms of not only Ebola, but infectious diseases, in general. What’s more, they are advising employees to get flu immunizations early in the season, practice regular hand washing and to use hand sanitizers. By sharing their tips, tools and precautions with our friends and subscribers, our shared goal is to promote the wellbeing of everyone and to help keep workplaces and environments as healthy as possible. For detailed information about infection control, download these free Universal resources:

Infectious Diseases

Flu Pandemic

We hope this blog post has reassured you that, despite excessive media coverage, your risk of contracting Ebola is actually quite low. Nevertheless, we want to make sure you remain informed about anything and everything that concerns public health and welfare, because we want you to #BESAFE. One way to do so is to subscribe to the Allied Universal Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services, which is a convenient and affordable solution to helping improve and save lives. Visit our website for ways proper planning can make a difference in numerous aspects of your professional and personal life.

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