Schools have closed, there are house-to-house searches for the sick, and the death toll continues to rise from the Ebola epidemic sweeping West Africa. In Sierra Leone, the president has declared a state of emergency over the disease, which is up to 90 percent fatal.
Here in the U.S. there is growing concern about the threat in the wake of reports that a man with the virus nearly boarded a plane bound for Minneapolis, potentially carrying the disease to America.
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The U.S. Peace Corps has evacuated hundreds of its volunteers from affected countries after two of its workers had contact with an Ebola victim who died. The workers are now under isolation.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control issued a travel advisory Thursday warning Americans not to travel to the three countries stricken with Ebola, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea.
Newsmax Health asked Michael Zimring, M.D., director of the Center for Wilderness and Travel Medicine at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, to answer common questions about deepening crisis, which has so far claimed more than 700 lives.
Q: Describe the course of Ebola. What are the early symptoms and how does it kill?
A: The early symptoms are fever, headache, fatigue. and low blood pressure. The virus destroys the immune system. It also makes capillaries (the smallest of the body’s blood vessels) permeable, allowing fluid in. As a result, blood pressure drops and the body begins leaking fluid. The person goes into shock, their organs fail, and they die.
Q: What can doctors do for someone with Ebola?
A: There is no cure and therefore only supportive care can be offered. In other words, doctors try to keep the blood pressure up, give the person fluids, and do all they can to make sure the organs don’t fail.
Q: How contagious is Ebola?
A: It is contagious by transmission of body fluid. If someone eats a monkey that was infected, and they share it with others, everyone gets sick and dies. This disease is very dangerous to doctors because they can get it if they are in contact with a sick person and the virus gets in through broken skin, for instance. But you can’t get it from air contact. If you’re caring for someone who has the disease, or taking care of the body of someone who has died from it, you can contract it. It is so dangerous because there’s no cure for it. The virus works very fast.
Q: If you sat next to someone on a plane with Ebola, could you catch it?
A: You cannot really catch it by sitting next to someone. But if you make contact with them at all, and bodily fluids are exchanged, then you can contract it. For example, if they spit and you come into contact with it, you can get it.
Q: Can you catch it from a mosquito bite?
A: Not so far as we know.
Q: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control have downplayed the threat of Ebola spreading inside the U.S. Why can’t the illness spread in the U.S. the same way it has in West Africa?
A: I agree with the CDC that the chances are very slim because by the time the person gets on the plane, they might be dead before they reach the U.S.
Q: What’s your view of the latest government travel advisory, which warns people not to go to these affected countries unless it is absolutely essential?
A: I think the government is absolutely right. This is a dangerous disease which is 80 to 90 percent fatal.
Q: If someone were planning a trip to an area in Africa where there is no Ebola, would you advise that they go ahead with it?
A: I would say they should wait. This outbreak is the largest in Africa ever, so I would not travel anywhere there at this point.
Q: What’s the most important thing Americans need to know about the Ebola epidemic?
A: I think people should be aware of the disease, but there is no reason to panic. I also think that people shouldn’t volunteer to go to West Africa to try to help. If you do go, you need to have the right isolation suits, isolation facilities, and protocol. It’s not worth the danger right now.
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