Have you been paying attention to the news recently? Ebola has been front page news for a few weeks, yet few of us have even a light grasp on what it is, how it spreads, or how to treat it. Recently a victim of Ebola, Dr. Kent Brantly, was returned to the U.S. from Africa where he had been working as a medical missionary when he contracted Ebola. Another missionary worker has also been stricken and is being flown home to the U.S.. The news media seems hellbent on convincing us that this could be the start of yet another major health disaster in our country.
But is it?
Ebola is a virus and an infected person suffers the most intense flu-like symptoms imaginable. Fevers are extremely high, leading to dehydration. If unchecked, a victim will die very quickly. There is a treatment in the news that has not been tested and is not being used in the United States. Both of the patients who returned to the U.S. were treated with the new drug before they left Africa. The final outcome is still uncertain, though preliminary reports suggest that the treatment could be effective. People who might now contract Ebola here wouldn’t have the new drug available until it is tested and cleared by our FDA.
More important, though, is whether Ebola will spread like wildfire across the country while we have nothing to treat it with.
According to Tara C. Smith, PhD, in a blog post, “Are we *sure* Ebola isn’t airborne?”, the virus is spread by the transfer of bodily fluids like HIV/AIDS, not through the air like the common cold and flu viruses. When asked about how Ebola patients are being handled, Dr. Smith reported, “Dr. Brantly arrived and has been transported in a suit and so were others working with him… An abundance of caution is always used. However… for the average Joe, even if Dr. Brantly were ill and next to you on a bus/train etc…, you’re at extremely low risk of contracting the virus. Thus, all the panic about bringing Ebola victims into the U.S. as if that were going to set off an epidemic is extremely overblown…”
Checking Dr. Smith’s credentials reveals that she is an expert in this area having hands-on experience with Ebola and other infectious diseases. She acknowledges that Ebola is serious and also points out in another post that it is already in the U.S., meaning that Dr. Brantly is not the first. Additionally, other diseases, some far more onerous than Ebola, are also here. When handled appropriately they do not pose a threat to anyone.
The most recent arrivals with Ebola have been sent to facilities that are extensively prepared to treat the sick and prevent the spread of disease to the rest of us.
The best advice for all of us may be to tone down the breaking news stories and pay attention to the people who know the disease, like Dr. Smith, who says, “… be concerned. But be rational as well. …