Could You & Your Family Get the Ebola Virus? 5 Things You Need to Know

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We were very sad to hear that US Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan died this week. The hospital didn't accurately diagnose the 42-year-old dad the first time he was admitted to the emergency room and sent him home -- where he came into contact with family members.

If you've been following stories of this and other Ebola outbreaks, we wouldn't blame you for feeling a little paranoid. Does all this mean that we're facing a possible epidemic here in the US? Are you, your kids, and the rest of the family at risk of getting Ebola?

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Health experts say nomost of us are not at risk of contracting the Ebola virus. Here's what you need to know to protect yourself and your family and keep from getting stressed about it.

1. Hospitals and doctors are "on the case" and know what to look for. The story of how the Dallas hospital first handled Duncan is troubling, but it's not the whole story. "Public health people are very much aware of the Ebola virus and are making sure we're protected," says infectious diseases specialist Dr. Aaron Glatt, Chief Administrative Officer at Mercy Medical Center in New York state.

2. Avoid travel to Africa. "If you're not traveling to the endemic areas in Africa, you're not at risk," says Glatt. By endemic areas, he means the regions in West Africa where Ebola has spread. 

3. Avoid these other unlikely ways to get the virus. The CDC says health care workers treating Ebola patients and their families are at the highest risk for exposure to the disease. The federal agency also cautions against coming into contact with infected wildlife -- not likely for those of us in other regions of the world, the CDC says:

For example, in Africa, Ebola may spread as a result of handling bushmeat (wild animals hunted for food) and contact with infected bats. The virus also can be spread through contact with objects (like clothes, bedding, needles, syringes/sharps, or medical equipment) that have been contaminated with the virus or with infected animals.

4. Be familiar with Ebola symptoms, but don't panic since they're similar to those of many other, more common illnesses. "The symptoms of Ebola are non-specific," says Glatt. "Fever, vomiting, diarrhea." (See the CDC's full list of Ebola symptoms.) However, if you have flu-like symptoms AND you've recently been to Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Senegal, or Nigeria, get to the nearest ER, tell them what's wrong, and inform them that you've recently traveled to West Africa. "But otherwise, it's not going to be Ebola," Glatt says. "There are other things you should be much more concerned about."

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5. Ebola is not an airborne-spread illness. It's transferred via bodily fluids: sweat, saliva, blood, urine, vomit, and excrement. Health care workers treating patients with Ebola need to follow safety protocol carefully.  

Despite what happened in Dallas, the US has the information and the capacity to keep the Ebola virus from spreading here. It's frightening to see such a powerful illness take so many lives so quickly and ruthlessly. But, as doctors and health officials keep assuring us, we are being protected from it here.

Are you worried about your family getting Ebola? Does this reassure you?

 

Image © iStock.com/CEFutcher

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