Aug 01, 2014 1:00 AM

Author: Libby Mitchell

The headlines about Ebola just keep getting worse. The Peace Corps is pulling all volunteers from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, and the Centers for Disease Control is advising the cancellation of all non-essential travel to affected countries. While the crisis is worsening in West Africa though, how concerned should the rest of the world be? “There is concern about spread outside the areas of the current outbreak,” says Sankar Swaminathan, MD, the chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases for University of Utah Health.

While some of the symptoms of Ebola are obvious and severe, like unusual bleeding, those who have contracted the disease may not even know they have it until two to 21 days later. “However, patients are not thought to be contagious during this period,” says Swaminathan. The real risk period is when the first symptoms appear. “Initial signs of the illness may not be specific to Ebola,” he says, adding, “Patients could travel before exhibiting symptoms or during the early stages.”

Ebola may first present with just a lack of appetite, or a fever, which could indicate any number of illnesses.  You have to come in close contact with an infected person to contract Ebola though. Says Swaminathan, “Ebola is spread from person to person through infected bodily fluids: direct contact with blood, saliva, etc. Spread is particularly common in close household contacts but also through exposure of health care workers to patients. “

For now there is no cure for Ebola. “Currently, while vaccines and other therapies are under development, there is no specific anti-Ebola treatment, says Swaminathan. “Treatment is supportive, including such measures as keeping patients adequately hydrated and treating and preventing complications.”

The key with stopping the spread of Ebola is containment once it is detected. That’s good news for more developed countries. “Containment should be easier in areas with good public health facilities, resources and infection control procedures,” says Swaminathan. Restricting travel and pulling people out of affected areas will help with that containment. Perhaps soon the headlines will be getting better. 

Libby Mitchell

Libby Mitchell is the Social Media Coordinator for University of Utah Health Care. Follow her on Twitter @UUHCLibby.

ebola infectious disease travel

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