Ebola is making headlines.Due to a recent West African outbreak this epidemic has claimed more lives than any other since the discovery of the Ebola virus in the 1970s. This potentially deadly virus originates in animals but can be passed from human-to-human once a person becomes infected. A recent CDC report projects that without effective containment the epidemic could reach up to 1.5 million cases by early 2015.
But what is the real risk to U.S. citizens?
Ebola is believed to be carried by fruit bats, which then infect other wild animals such as chimpanzees, antelope, and porcupines. The virus is then introduced to humans through contact with these animals' organs or bodily secretions. Once a human is carrying the virus, it can be transmitted to others through blood or bodily fluids, or through materials infected with these fluids. It has been shown that men who have recovered from Ebola can still infect others with their bodily fluids for up to seven weeks after their recovery. The fatality rate for those infected was recently reported by the New England Journal of Medicine to be around 70 percent.
Symptoms and Treatment
Preliminary symptoms of Ebola include fever, muscle pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. On average, symptoms appear within 8 to 10 days of contracting the virus, but can occur as quickly as two or as slowly as 21 days later. Because these symptoms so closely resemble those of several other diseases, the first step in diagnosis is to rule out other causes, such as malaria or meningitis. Ebola must be confirmed by blood samples.
There is no vaccine for Ebola, but treating infected people with IV fluids and electrolytes, monitoring vital signs, and addressing other illnesses that may diminish immunity can all improve a person's likelihood of survival. Once a person has recovered from Ebola, he or she develops an immunity that can last up to 10 years.
The Reality of Risk
The short answer is that U.S. citizens are at very low risk of contracting the Ebola virus. Up to this point, no cases of Ebola have been reported in the U.S.; all deaths related to the recent outbreak are confined to five West African countries. Medical professionals caring for Ebola patients are at the greatest risk for contracting the disease.
Organizations such as the CDC are actively monitoring the outbreak and developing response recommendations for state and local public health entities. Those traveling to areas where the outbreak has occurred can take simple precautions, such as washing hands and avoiding contact with others' bodily fluids, to minimize the chance of becoming infected.
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