Ebola has made numerous headlines in recent months, as health officials, politicians, and the media have grappled with facts and myths about the virus.
Two public health experts joined Renee Shaw on Connections to discuss Ebola and other infectious diseases in the news recently. Her guests were University of Louisville physicians Dr. Kristina Bryant, an epidemiologist, and Dr. Charles Woods, a pediatric infectious disease specialist. Here are 10 questions and answers from their conversation.
1. What is Ebola and how is it spread?
Bryant says Ebola is a viral hemorrhagic fever seen primarily in Africa. It is spread through direct contact with blood or other bodily fluids from an individual with the virus. Only a person actually sick with Ebola can transmit the virus, so if you don’t have any symptoms, you’re not contagious. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization report the virus is not spread through the air like measles or chicken pox, nor are they concerned that it would mutate into an airborne contagion.
2. What are the symptoms of Ebola?
The primary symptoms are fever, vomiting, and diarrhea. Initial detection can be tricky since those symptoms are common to many medical conditions. Some patients may also exhibit hemorrhaging. When the patient first displays symptoms, Bryant says the level of virus in the bloodstream is still relatively low. So the risk of transmission is low but increases the longer the patient exhibit symptoms.
3. How are hospitals and health care professionals in Kentucky responding?
Local providers have been instructed to ask patients with those symptoms if they have traveled to the west African countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone, or Liberia in the past 21 days. They will also ask if the patient has had contact with a person known to have Ebola. Bryant says local hospitals have been trained on isolation protocols to protect doctors and nurses, and to prevent the spread of the virus to other individuals.
4. Are quarantines necessary?
Bryant says the CDC has not called for quarantines of potential patients, but they do require monitoring travelers who have come from west African countries. Woods says that in a few cases, a quarantine may be worthwhile, but in most instances it’s an over-reaction.
5. Is there a treatment or cure for Ebola?
Doctors provide supportive care to help patients manage fluid loss and organ damage caused by the virus. Woods says Ebola is not 100 percent fatal, especially if the patient can be kept alive long enough for their immune system to attack the virus. Researchers are testing drug treatments for the disease but none have been clinically proven safe and effective yet. Woods indicates such a vaccine may still be years away.
6. Would you care for patient with Ebola?
Bryant says she’s concerned about the virus as a global citizen and public health official, but she’s not personally worried about contracting Ebola in Louisville. “As I tell my colleagues at Kosair Children’s Hospital, if we ever have an Ebola patient, I will take care of them and then I’ll go home to my family,” Bryant says. “I really trust in my ability to put on the right precautions and to not be exposed [to the virus].”
7. How has the media coverage of this year’s outbreak been?
Woods says the media has a vital role to play in driving Americans to be prepared without going so far as to incite panic about Ebola. Bryant agrees, saying some coverage has been very helpful and informative, while other reports have only fueled fear among the public. She emphasizes that only two people in the United States have contracted Ebola in this country, and both of them were health care workers caring for an Ebola patient.
8. What is Enterovirus D68?
Woods says this respiratory disease (also called EV-D68) affects children, especially those with asthma or other chronic lung conditions. It made news earlier this year when the virus was suspected in patients in 47 states. Despite the widespread outbreak, the CDC says there were still only about 1,100 confirmed cases. Woods says EV-D68 was first recognized in the 1960s. He calls it a close cousin to the common cold, and says it often circulates through the population during the late summer and early fall.
9. How is EV-D68 treated?
Woods says supportive care is given to children with the virus, and some may actually require hospitalization. There is no vaccine for EV-D68 yet.
10. What about influenza?
Bryant and Woods agree that the flu is a much bigger and more common health threat to Kentuckians. They urge everyone to get flu shots, which you can do any time during the flu season. It takes 10 to 14 days for vaccine to become fully effective in the body.
Watch the full Connections conversation.