EBOLA Information Guide

I’ve heard from many of you with questions and concerns about the Ebola virus, and I will do my best to provide you with accurate, up-to-date information.  Below you will find a factsheet on the virus, information on the federal government’s response, and links for more resources.

First, it is important to remember that we are not facing an Ebola crisis in the United States.   The crisis is being felt in 3 west African countries – Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone – poor countries where access to health care is very limited.  So far, only four people in the United States have been diagnosed with Ebola – a traveler from Liberia, two nurses who cared for him at a Dallas hospital and a doctor from New York who cared for Ebola patients in west Africa.  Only one person – the Liberian traveler – has died.  To put that into context, 36,000 Americans die every year in the United States from the flu.  

SO, PLEASE, GET A FLU SHOT – IT’S FREE UNDER MOST INSURANCE POLICIES AND IS ALSO AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL HEALTH DEPARTMENT.

Second, the Ebola virus does not spread easily – like the flu or a cold.  It is not airborne – you have to be in contact with the bodily fluids of someone who is showing symptoms.   

Third, although one person has died from Ebola, American hospitals have been able to successfully treat the others who have contracted Ebola –the two nurses who contracted the disease and infected Americans who have returned from Liberia.

Information:

“Get the Facts:  The Ebola Virus,” from the Chicago Department of Public Health
What is the U.S. federal government doing?
What should international travelers expect?
I want to help – what can I do?
Resources
 

GET THE FACTS: THE EBOLA VIRUS
(prepared by the Chicago Department of Public Health)

The 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa is the largest in history and the first to affect individuals in multiple countries. Although the Ebola outbreak is a humanitarian crisis in West Africa, the epidemic does not pose a significant risk to the U.S. public. The Ebola virus does not spread easily. This fact sheet explains some basics about the illness.

What is Ebola? Ebola is a hemorrhagic fever virus that has appeared sporadically since its initial recognition in 1976 and named after a river in the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa, where it was first recognized. The virus has also been identified in bats and primates. Ebola causes severe illness. Between 50 and 90% of humans who become infected with the virus die.

What are the symptoms? Symptoms of Ebola include: fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, lack of appetite and abnormal bleeding. Some patients may have a rash, red eyes, hiccups, cough, sore throat, chest pain, difficulty breathing or swallowing or bleeding inside or outside the body.

Symptoms most commonly start 8-10 days after coming in contact with the Ebola virus but can occur as early as 2 days and up to 21 days after exposure.

How is Ebola spread? The Ebola virus is spread by direct contact with blood or other body fluids (vomit, diarrhea, urine, breast milk, sweat, semen) of an infected person who has symptoms or with a person who has recently died from Ebola. It may also be spread through objects or surfaces contaminated by body fluids of a person infected with Ebola virus, for example clothing or bedding. Ebola is not spread through the air or by water, or in general food. However, in Africa, Ebola may be spread as a result of handling bush meat (wild animals hunted for food) and contact with infected bats. It can also be spread by eating an animal that was infected by Ebola, including bats.

A person infected with the Ebola virus CANNOT pass it on to others before any symptoms appear.

Who is at risk for Ebola?
The risk of catching Ebola in the general public is extremely low. Healthcare providers or family members who care for patients infected with Ebola in West Africa are at increased risk because they may come into contact with blood or other body fluids.

What treatment is available? There is no licensed treatment or vaccine for Ebola virus disease, though both are under investigation. Treatment for Ebola is supportive with intravenous fluids, maintaining blood pressure and oxygenation and treating additional infections if present.

How can I protect myself?
Avoid non-essential travel to areas in West Africa affected by the Ebola virus disease outbreak including Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.


DO wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Do NOT touch the blood or body fluids (like urine, feces, saliva, vomit, sweat and semen) of people who are sick.
Do NOT handle items that may have come in contact with a sick person’s blood or body fluids, like clothes, bedding, needles or medical equipment.
Do NOT touch the body of someone who has died of Ebola.

 

WHAT IS THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT DOING?

Since the Ebola outbreak in west Africa, the U.S. government has responded to protect Americans and to stop the health crisis in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.  While these three west African countries continue to face a severe crisis, countries like Nigeria (with better health systems) have been able to contain the epidemic.  

To ensure that Ebola-infected foreign travelers do not enter the United States and spread the disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and international agencies are checking the temperatures, since fever is one of the first symptoms to appear, and health status of any travelers coming from the three west African countries so that no one with Ebola symptoms is allowed to fly or, if they develop symptoms, or isolated when they arrive at one of 5 U.S. airports.  O’Hare is one of those airports. (The others are Dulles in Washington, JFK in New York, Newark, and Atlanta.)  While there are no direct flights from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone to the United States, passengers who originate from one of those 3 countries must fly into one of the 5 designated airports.   Even if someone coming from one of the countries doesn’t have symptoms, they are monitored for 21 days in case they develop them.

The CDC has trained response teams available to travel anywhere in the country if someone is diagnosed with Ebola to assist local hospitals and escort the person to one of four specially-equipped hospitals – in Georgia, Maryland, Montana, and Nebraska.

Although there are no FDA-approved drugs or vaccines to prevent or treat Ebola, health experts have effective practices and strategies to contain it.  The National Institutes of Health and Department of Defense are working to accelerate development of therapies and vaccines.  

Public health and medical experts agree that our best protection is to eradicate the Ebola outbreak in west Africa.  U.S. military troops are helping to build the health units needed to isolate and treat those infected by Ebola.  The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has invested over $100 million on containing the outbreak.  Through its Emerging and Pandemic Threats (EPT) programs, it is engaging in helping countries detect and response to infectious disease outbreaks.  The CDC has sent over 100 personnel to west Africa to help with on-the-ground efforts.  We are also helping to provide needed supplies, and many doctors, nurses and other health professionals are volunteering their skills to the effort.

To coordinate all these efforts, President Obama appointed Ron Klain on October 17 to serve as the White House Ebola response coordinate.  He will coordinate inter-agency domestic and international efforts to contain Ebola infections and save lives in the United States and around the world.

Congress has already provided $88 million in funding for Ebola response efforts and will likely consider additional requests for resources this fall.  I joined with my colleagues to send a letter to the House Appropriations Committee requesting they prioritize funding for public health research and infrastructure in upcoming spending bills.  A number of Congressional Committees have held hearings into domestic and global efforts, including the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, on which I serve.  You can find more information about that October 16 hearing here.


WHAT SHOULD INTERNATIONAL TRAVELERS EXPECT?

There are no direct flights from the affected west African countries (Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone) to the United States.  Passengers who originate from one of those countries and connect into the U.S. will have to fly into one of 5 airports with enhanced screening capabilities.  (O’Hare is one of those airports – the others are Dulles in Washington, JFK in New York, Newark, and Atlanta).  Those passengers will have been screened before getting on a plane in west Africa and once they land.  

If a person who lands shows any Ebola-like symptoms (e.g., a high fever or vomiting), they will be isolated and provided with treatment.  If someone lands and is symptom-free, they will still be tracked for 21 days in case symptoms develop during that time.  In that case, they will be isolated and treated.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have installed additional staff and processing at O’Hare and the other four airports.  

Here is a join CDC and CBP factsheet about what international travelers can expect when arriving at O’Hare.  (http://www.dhs.gov/news/2014/10/08/fact-sheet-screening-travelers-airports).

The CDC has a helpful guide for returning travelers:
(http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2014/chapter-5-post-travel-evaluation/general-approach-to-the-returned-traveler).

For more information, http://www.dhs.gov/ebola-response

I WANT TO HELP – WHAT CAN I DO?

While there are a number of qualified organizations soliciting private donations of medical equipment and other humanitarian assistance in west Africa, unfortunately there are some unscrupulous people trying to profit from this humanitarian crisis.  

The Federal Trade Commission provides helpful guidance for identifying and supporting reputable charitable efforts at http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/how-guard-against-ebola-related-charity-scams.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is helping to coordinate and recruit qualified medical professions to help treat and contain the disease.  For more information, please visit:  http://www.usaid.gov/ebola/volunteers.

Get a flu shot.  It is important to avoid a flu epidemic both to protect your own and your family’s health and to reduce confusion since its symptoms often mirror the symptoms of Ebola.  Flu shots are free under most health insurance.  Check with your local health department if you have questions.  


Resources:
Illinois Department of Health:  www.ebola.illinois.gov.  24-hour hotline:  1-800-889-3931.
Chicago Department of Health: http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdph.html
Illinois Hospital Association:  http://www.ihatoday.org/health-care-issues/hospital-preparedness.aspx
CDC: http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/index.html
NIH: http://www.nih.gov/health/ebola.htm
Customs and Border Protection/Department of Homeland Security:  http://www.dhs.gov/ebola-response

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