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February 25, 2021

Your Health: Health care preparedness makes Ebola epidemic unlikely in U.S.

There has been one confirmed case of Ebola virus infection in the United States where a man traveled from Liberia in Africa, to Dallas, Tex. to visit relatives.
His symptoms developed only after being in the U.S. for a few days. The very word “Ebola” brings a shudder to many people — as well it should, since the mortality rate is so high amongst its victims.
Ebola infection is caused by a virus. As I’ve stated many times previously, viruses cannot be treated with antibiotics, therefore there is no successful treatment of Ebola.
Those infected with Ebola need top-notch critical care for any chance of survival.
The current Ebola outbreak began in West Africa. As of this writing, it has infected approximately 7,500 people, of which 3,500 have died. This is a very high mortality rate and is what makes this disease so scary.
Various international health organizations are converging on the affected African nations to do everything possible to prevent the spread and to keep the epidemic localized.
There is a tremendous need for trained health care workers with adequate equipment to help contain the virus in those underdeveloped countries.
The good news is that Ebola is not as contagious as other virus-caused diseases, such as the common cold or influenza.
At this time, it is not believed to be spread by respiratory droplets — such as from coughing or sneezing.
It is spread by contact with an infected person’s skin or body fluids — especially vomit, diarrhea, and blood.
It is also spread, perhaps to a lesser degree, with contact of infected saliva, sweat, tears, and open wounds. It is not thought to be passed from air, water, or food.
You can’t get Ebola from an infected person until they are showing obvious symptoms.
Ebola infection manifests after at least one week from the time of exposure, and one may become critically ill within just a few days thereafter.
Symptoms of Ebola include:
– Sudden fever as high as 105 degrees Fahrenheit.
– Intense headache, weakness, sore throat, as well as terrible joint and muscle aches.
– Profuse vomiting and diarrhea.
When death occurs, it is usually due to internal bleeding and generalized organ (kidney, heart, and lungs) failure.
At this time, only supportive care is available utilizing intravenous fluids and blood transfusions. A human vaccine is being developed as quickly as possible.
All hospitals and large clinics such as mine, the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, have put into place strict protocols for the screening, isolation, and treatment of Ebola patients, as well as for protecting other patients and medical staff.
I have never seen this level of preparedness for a disease in my entire 41 years of medical practice.
This level of preparedness is a good thing, not only for the very rare possibility of an Ebola epidemic, but also in case of epidemics from other virus-borne deadly diseases — such the influenza epidemic seen in 1918.
In conclusion, I want to reiterate that the current Ebola infection is very unlikely to spread throughout the United States and that the isolated cases that will continue to show up will be well-controlled by our increasing level of health care preparedness.
– Terry Hollenbeck, M.D., is an urgent-care physician at Palo Alto Medical Foundation Santa Cruz in Scotts Valley. Readers can view his previous columns on his website, valleydoctor.wordpress.com, or email him at [email protected] Information in this column is not intended to replace advice from your own health care professional. For any medical concern, consult your own doctor.