With the first known Ebola patients coming to the United States within the next few days, there are a lot of questions—and a lot of fear.
You hear that the disease is almost universally deadly – and then ask why we would voluntarily bring infected patients into the country. The reasons are many—and the first thing you need to do is get rid of any images or thoughts you have from movies or books about deadly viruses wiping out the population.
That’s just not what’s going on here.
Sure, Ebola is deadly, but some have survived it, and the key to preventing an epidemic is to be aggressive now.
Here are answers to five key questions:
- How worried should you be? ——- Average everyday person—nil. We doctors, on the other hand, a bit more. We will be keeping a close eye on very ill people who come to our emergency rooms and clinics. We need to be thinking about Ebola when we see someone with flu symptoms, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and so forth. We need to ask about travel, or family members who may be sick or have traveled. If we have concerns, we isolate and quarantine the patient and call in the CDC. Our radar needs to go up a few notches.
- What sort of precautions will be taken on the flight to America, and then at the hospital at Emory? ——First, neither patient is flying on a commercial airline. They will be on board flying ICUs, equipped with isolation pods with special filters and airflow. Healthcare members will be wearing impenetrable “spacesuits” that will prevent any contact with virus particles. Then, at Emory, the patients will be in special isolation rooms—separate from the rest of the hospital, and specially built for this scenario. There again will be special airflow, pressurization of the room that prevents viral particles from being swept from the room, airtight seals on doors, UV sterilization of air, and much more. Personally, I would have little worry being on that plane or in that room providing care.
- Can I catch Ebola on a plane? ——That’s also pretty much a nil. A cough or sneeze will not spread this germ. Those who catch it have to be in close contact for prolonged periods with bodily fluids such as blood, urine, vomit, or diarrhea. If you’ve got some guy coughing on your flight, I’d be more worried about catching some everyday germ (plus asking “why are you on my plane when you are sick?!?!” I hate being stuck next to, or rows from someone who is hacking away at any time.
- Experts say even if Ebola is discovered here, it won’t be as widespread as West Africa. Why? —There are two answers to that. First, the American healthcare system is better equipped to handle Ebola (see below), and more vigilant in detecting it. You get Ebola, you will get so ill, you will seek medical care. The second reason is more cultural. There is a lot of suspicion towards healthcare workers and hospitals in the countries where Ebola is currently spreading rapidly. Most people will care for sick loved ones at home, where they have no gloves, masks, or even clean water. That’s where the day to day prolonged contact with bodily fluids comes into play—and causes the germ to infect family members and friends.
- How about treatment? —- it’s said one person coming to the US is getting a special serum from someone who survived Ebola. If so, it’s because it is hoped that serum (from the blood) may have special immune cells and chemicals to fight off Ebola. The other patient is said to be getting a blood transfusion. There may not be anything that is unique to that—Ebola- infected people often become anemic and have trouble with blood clotting.
And that brings up the point of why bring these Americans back to America for treatment … especially since there is no known cure or treatment—meaning antibiotics and other drugs won’t kill the germ. It’s really for supportive care: IV fluids, dialysis, blood transfusions, oxygen, respirators, etc. until the body can hopefully fight off the germ.
Vaccines, btw, are months away, and even then will be experimental.
The people being brought home are Americans who went abroad to help others—others who have little access to health care (when they are willing to seek healthcare.) They are special people who, with minimal supplies and equipment, put themselves at risk to care for people in need. You should have no fear of them coming home.
For their work, I admire and honor them, and those who are like them. True humanitarians.