Ebola—should you be concerned?

Ebola is a virus receiving a lot of media attention – what facts and concerns should we be aware of?

The Ebola virus can be found primarily in wild animals, mainly mammals such as bats and apes. When people are exposed to the bodily fluids of these animals, they can contract the virus and then spread it to other human beings.

Ebola symptoms include fever, rash, muscle pain and weakness. As the fever increases, bleeding often occurs in the form of bloody diarrhea and vomiting. It’s during the time a person is experiencing symptoms that they are considered infectious. Ebola cannot be “caught” from being in the same area as an infected person – the virus is not airborne. Rather, the infection spreads when someone is in contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person. This is why we often hear through the media that health care workers and close family members who cared for an infected patient become infected themselves.

The risk of contracting Ebola, like most viruses including the flu, can be lowered by practicing good hygiene safety measures. This includes washing your hands and wearing gloves when treating someone who is ill. Patients who are treated in health care facilities are more likely to survive than those who are treated at home. Staying home also increases the likely hood that more people will become infected. Unfortunately this is what is happening in West Africa, where the stigma of having the disease prevents many people from seeking treatment and hospital facilities are underequipped to handle the increasing amount of cases.

Currently measures are being used to avoid an outbreak in the United States. This includes sending infected patients to designated hospitals that are equipped to deal with Ebola and restricting incoming travelers from Ebola infected countries to a limited number of airports that are equipped to screen flyers that have symptoms. For more information about Ebola in the United States, contact the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

So, don’t panic. Your risk of developing Ebola is extremely low. Washing your hands frequently, getting daily physical activity and eating nutritious meals will help keep your immune system strong. This will help you fight off the more common viruses we do see in our country, such as influenza. For more information on staying healthy, contact your local Michigan State University Extension.

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