Yes, I have an opinion on whether or not we should bring American citizens with Ebola home for treatment, and trust me, I’ll get to that. However, I’m going to discuss a few things about the virus and what it means for us in EMS.
As most of you know, there is tons of hysteria over the decision to bring our citizens home for treatment and plenty of fear that doing so is going to open us up to risk for an outbreak on U.S. soil. Well, that threat has existed ever since the discovery of the virus and it continues today. As it currently stands, we aren’t at a very high risk for infection. However, these outbreaks show us that these diseases are out there and that we need to educate ourselves on them and take the necessary precautions.
Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever (Ebola HF) is a viral hemorrhagic fever that is severe and often fatal to humans and animals. The exact natural reservoir host isn’t known but it is believed to be bats. What the CDC does know, is that it originates from animals.
The virus is NOT airborne. It is transmitted through direct contact with blood or other bodily fluids. Typically, those at risk of infection are people that are close to the infected patients, like close family members and healthcare providers. It has an incubation period of approximately 21 days with symptoms showing up anywhere from 2-8 days after the infection. So far, the virus has been found to be non-contagious prior to the onset of symptoms.
Some of the symptoms include:
- Sore Throat
- Bleeding from eyes, ears and nose
- Bleeding from mouth and rectum
- Eye swelling
- Genital swelling
- Increased feeling of pain in the skin
- Rash over the entire body that often contains blood
- Roof of mouth looks red
Source: Medline Plus
So what does this mean for EMS? Well, not much. As it currently stands, our risk of exposure is pretty low. However, when we run into patients with unexplained symptoms as described above, it would be good practice to ascertain whether they have left the country recently or been exposed to anyone that has. Of course, proper isolation precautions should be utilized. For situations where the Ebola Virus or other similar infectious diseases are suspected, gloves, gowns, masks and eye protection should always be worn.
Now that I’ve given you the facts, let’s talk about my opinion a little bit…..
I have to admit, I can’t help but shake my head when I read all the fear and massive hysteria over the decision to bring infected patients back to U.S. soil. I can understand the concern, being that we have never had an infected person in our country, but the disrespectful meme comics and doomsday predictions are nothing more than ignorant and absurd. Like I mentioned earlier, the risk hasn’t changed. If we are going to worry about infected patients entering our country, we need to focus on the ones entering through our borders, not the ones flying in on state-of-the-art medical aircraft wearing air-tight space suits.
There is always the possibility of an infected person arriving on an airline, however given the several layovers, long periods of travel, short symptom-onset, and heightened screening measures, it’s unlikely that someone will reach our country before diagnosis. Even if they do, let’s remember that this disease isn’t airborne, so they aren’t going to be infecting everyone that passes by.
The second theory, and scariest in my opinion, is the possibility of a terrorist attack. When our enemies are willing to strap bombs to their chest, we certainly can’t overlook the possibility of intentional infection with the intent to spread. Having said that, conventional air travel isn’t typically possible for this group of people, therefore greatly extending their travel time to the United States. Once again, with the short symptom onset and no treatment rendered, it would be highly unlikely that they could reach the western hemisphere before becoming incapacitated. Is it a threat? Sure. Is it likely? No.
Now, back to the Americans with the Ebola Virus……seriously guys, let’s kill the panic. The disease isn’t airborne and these patients aren’t walking the streets. In fact, they are in the ONE place where spreading the disease is virtually impossible. They aren’t freaking zombies, they’re U.S. Citizens. It’s going to be in our best interest to get real hands-on experience treating infected humans. We can only go so far treating monkeys in a lab. If everyone is so worried about a future outbreak in the United States, then wouldn’t be in our best interest to learn as much as we can about this disease?
The bottom line is, we will be fine. Just like every other time these outbreaks have occurred, we will see it die down. Only this time, we’ll have physician and another medical professional survive because of the treatment we made available to them. It’s a win for everybody.