Moms, Don’t Panic About Ebola But DO Know the Facts!

Moms, Don’t Panic About Ebola But DO Know the Facts!

It’s normal for moms to worry over health scares, but knowing the facts helps ease panic.

By: Marisa Torrieri Bloom

When Dallas, Texas became ground zero for the Ebola virus in the U.S. last month, my stomach knotted up and I had a hard time sleeping. But then, two things happened that made the fear really, truly hit home. First, I heard the news that someone was admitted to Yale New Haven Hospital -- about a 30-minute drive north of me! -- for Ebola-like symptoms (the patient has since tested negative for the virus). Then, news broke that a New York City physician who had been working with Ebola patients in Guinea tested positive for the virus, about a day after he’d gone bowling in my former home of Brooklyn and rode the same subway that used to be my mode of transportation.

But while this physician appears to have been super-alert (he self-monitored for symptoms and checked his temperature twice a day), who’s to say that everyone at risk for this disease will be. Hence, I’ve started carrying around hand sanitizer, mainly because it makes me feel more secure.

I’m certainly far from alone: Many moms who knew I was writing this article spoke to me about their fears. “I’m starting to wonder if I should pull my son out of day care,” said a mom of two in my neighborhood. “I’m sort of freaked out about flying home to New York for Christmas,” admitted a South Florida mom of an infant.

Seeing videos and slideshows of the devastating effects this awful, quick-to-kill virus is having on families in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea is hard enough. Imagining my loved ones going through the same kind of pain is almost unbearable.

So what can a mom do if she is concerned about her family catching this terrible disease?

The first step: Arm yourself with the facts. “Moms should first know the symptoms and signs of the disease and where it is,” says Dr. Kiki Hurt, a Brooklyn- and Los Angeles-based physician, board certified in internal medicine, anesthesiology, and critical care.

You may already know that Ebola, which has experienced several localized outbreaks before the current epidemic centered in West Africa, is a contagious disease with a current fatality rate of 50 percent to 70 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Ebola information site. You also probably have heard that it is transmitted through bodily fluids, such as saliva and blood.

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But should you start to get anxious when a cold or flu-like symptoms strike? Medical experts say no. Here are the facts to help ease your worry:

1. Ebola is MUCH harder to catch than the flu. “The flu is a virus carried in a aerosolized form that people can spread to others up to about 6 feet away, and coughing, sneezing, talking, and breathing can generate an aerosol of airborne particles that can carry the flu virus,” explains John Gobbels, travel health expert and vice president/COO of MedjetAssist, a domestic and global air medical transport membership program. “The Ebola virus is transmitted through direct contact with blood and body fluids from infected individuals. Unless that individual sneezed in my face and I had infected transfer of that body fluid through my mouth or mucus membranes, I have a much less chance of contracting Ebola than I would sitting in close proximity, even one row behind, to someone with the flu.”

2. Even if you exhibit Ebola-like symptoms, its probably still the flu. Let’s say you do have these signs and symptoms,” says Hurt. “Know that most of them are the same for the cold or the flu. The most concerning sign might be internal bleeding because it’s not typical of the cold or flu.” If you are panicked that you were exposed to someone who carries the virus, make sure you watch for signs such as fever, muscle pain, stomach pain, or other symptoms within two to 21 days, she adds, echoing government healthcare agency recommendations. And always consult your doctor if there’s any question about your symptoms.


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3. The CDC is taking actions to stop Ebolas spread. Recently, the CDC started screening passengers for symptoms of the disease at four U.S. airports that handle most of the air travel from West Africa into the United States. Screening includes temperature checks (a high fever is among the first signs of the disease). While not foolproof, this approach has, in the last month, already prevented nearly 80 people from boarding a plane when they showed signs of sickness or Ebola exposure, according to news reports.

“I think it’s a helpful approach because you may be able to weed out the people who definitely have it -- and are most contagious,” says Hurt. “You may be able to catch the people with the highest risk. You can take some comfort in knowing they’re trying to prevent the people with the greatest risk from getting on a plane with Ebola.”

4. Early detection increases the odds of survival. If Ebola is on your radar, and you suspect you or your child have been exposed and/or have developed symptoms of the disease, see a physician immediately. As a recent CNN piece notes, the two U.S. healthcare workers who sought treatment for Ebola soon after symptoms emerged, and survived, have one thing in common -- they were treated at two of the country's four hospitals that have been preparing for years to treat a highly infectious disease such as Ebola.

Still, it’s important to keep in mind certain basic precautions to minimize the risk of transmission in the unlikely event that you come into close proximity of someone who has the virus. These include washing your hands frequently, carrying and using hand sanitizer, and being careful not to come into contact with another person’s bodily fluids (such as sweat, saliva, or blood). The CDC offers more tips on preventing viral transmission of Ebola.

And if, for example, you do find yourself on a train or plane and someone appears to be extremely ill, don’t be afraid to take action.

“Notify the flight attendant immediately if you see someone who’s showing signs of severe sickness,” says Hurt. “They will then ask if there’s a doctor on board and the pilot or train conductor will talk to the doctor and a decision will be made after closely evaluating accordingly.”

Are you afraid of the spread of Ebola in the United States? What are you telling your kids and family?

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is a freelance writer and guitar teacher who lives with her husband and two young sons in Fairfield, Connecticut.

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