With the dreaded Ebola virus moving to Texas after having traveled from Africa, people must not let over-the-top cable news channel coverage and Internet-fueled conspiracy theories lead them to panic.
Ebola, while a painful, often fatal disease, is not transmitted easily. What’s more, because the health care system is superior in the United States and our general hygiene so much better, it’s likely that fatality rates seen in Africa will not occur here.
So far, it’s estimated that 70 percent of people who contracted the disease in West Africa have died. No wonder people are afraid.
There is no reason to panic (at least, not until or unless Ebola mutates to airborne transmission). What we can do, though, is take precautions as weather becomes colder and the flu and cold season approaches.
No, that sneeze likely is not Ebola. It’s a cold or allergies, but wash your hands anyway. Disinfect doorknobs and light switches at home and in offices. Wipe off telephones, whether landlines or mobile phones.
Ebola spreads through direct contact with feces, sweat, urine, saliva or fluid — bodily fluids, in other words. But what does “direct contact” mean? According to experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “direct contact” means the virus could enter through a cut, or through mucous membranes of the mouth and nose. So, everyone, cover your mouth when you sneeze to prevent the spread of bodily fluids.
At this point, the CDC says there is no epidemiological evidence to show that Ebola is transmitted from, say, an infected person to a light switch or door knob, and then back to a person. Because the virus is so lethal, though, there is nothing wrong with disinfecting everything in sight — at least that should help slow the spread of flu and colds.
The health care system also can’t panic, but workers must follow best practices, which did not happen in the case of the man diagnosed with Ebola in Dallas. He went to see a doctor with Ebola-like symptoms. Despite a nurse finding out he had traveled to Dallas from Africa, the man was sent home.
Every patient with Ebola-like symptoms needs to be asked for a travel history — those who have been in the affected areas will have to be isolated until a diagnosis is confirmed. That is good public health practice, erring on the side of caution but falling short of panic.
In the meantime, before worrying about contracting Ebola, get a flu shot in preparation for the winter ahead and wash your hands often. Drink plenty of fluids, get enough sleep, exercise and eat healthy, whole foods so that your immune system is strong.
Before worrying about Ebola making its way from Texas, be healthy. That provides protection not just from the unlikely event of Ebola coming to New Mexico, but from the real dangers — flu or other nasty viruses that actually are a threat to health.
— The Santa Fe New Mexican