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Published on September 04, 2014

Why You Shouldn’t Be Worried About Ebola 

It seems you can’t tune into the news right now without hearing about the Ebola outbreak. Between reports of another American possibly coming to the U.S. for treatment and the constant update on the death toll in West Africa (1552 people as of August 28), it’s easy to get worried about the virus. 

While this is the worst Ebola outbreak in recorded history, Dr. Todd Braun, the chief of Abington Memorial Hospital’s Division of Infectious Diseases, is working to calm our nerves. 

“No cases of Ebola virus have ever been transmitted in the United States, and the two persons who were treated in Atlanta were the only persons ever transferred to U.S. soil for treatment (as of August 27, 2014),” he said. 

Despite this, Dr. Braun said all U.S. hospitals are currently on alert for Ebola virus infections. This means that if someone shows up at an emergency room showing symptoms of the illness and recently traveled to West Africa, that patient would be placed into appropriate isolation. This would enable health care workers to prevent illness transmission until the patient has received proper evaluation and treatment. 

The virus has an incubation period of two to 21 days, but Dr. Braun said most cases become symptomatic about eight to 10 days after exposure. Those symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, weakness, vomiting and diarrhea. Fictionalized accounts of Ebola portray bleeding from multiple body parts, but this symptom only develops later in the illness and only about half of people that contract the virus progress to this symptom. 

Treating Ebola is “largely symptomatic,” he said, noting that it includes intravenous fluids, blood products and other measures. While there isn’t a specific antibiotic to treat an Ebola infection, antibiotics have been used to treat secondary complications associated with the virus. Dr. Kent Brantly and fellow missionary Nancy Writebol, who contracted Ebola while working with patients in Liberia, are receiving an experimental drug as a part of their treatment at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, but Dr. Braun said there aren’t current studies that confirm this drug is effective in humans. 

Ebola is not transmitted through the air like the flu is. Dr. Braun explained that the virus is contracted through direct contact with blood or infected body fluids of a person symptomatically ill with the disease. That means you can’t simply catch the illness by being in the same room as someone infected. You also can’t catch the virus from someone until they show symptoms of the infection. 

Despite media hysteria, contracting Ebola is not an automatic death sentence. Dr. Braun stated that the currently mortality rate for this outbreak is 54 percent. Past outbreaks have had mortality rates as high as 90 percent. The rate depends on the species of the Ebola virus in the outbreak as well as the adequacy of the healthcare available to the person infected, he said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the epidemic is currently confined to western Africa nations Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and, most recently, Nigeria. These nations are very poor with poor health infrastructure, which is partially to blame for the depth of the current outbreak. If the epidemic were to spread to a wealthier nation with a stronger health system, including the U.S., experts say it would be much more controllable.

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