When talking with people in the community, the word Ebola usually brings one of two reactions – fear or uncertainty as to what exactly it is. Ebola has made headlines in the news during the past few months, both controversial and in tribute to those who have volunteered to care for the ill. As of Oct. 29, 2014 the number of confirmed Ebola cases reported by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) was 7,702 world-wide with 4,941 deaths. The majority of cases have been in the West African countries of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. In these countries, children are left orphans, parents childless and complete families eliminated.
Ebola is a devastating disease that is spread through direct contact with body fluids – saliva, blood, semen, breast milk, urine, mucus, sweat, vomit or feces. According to the CDC, it is not spread through coughing or sneezing or through casual contact. The period of possible contamination is 21 days from the time of exposure. There is no proven vaccination for the virus although there are several being tested.
Recently, five people in Southern Indiana were being observed for the disease following possible contact with a Texas nurse who cared for the first Ebola-diagnosed case in the United States and has since tested positive for the virus herself. The period of observation expired around Nov. 4, 2014.
What does this have to do with you and me, sitting in the Midwest town of Huntington, Ind. who have never traveled to West Africa or been in contact with someone who has Ebola? In the middle of September, the American people were told that in the unlikely event Ebola would reach our shores, we are prepared as a nation to handle the virus. Ebola came to Texas on Sept. 30, and we were not prepared. Subsequently, two more cases were diagnosed in nurses caring for the first patient. In nursing, I have learned never to say never. There is always the possibility. We need to be vigilant yet not panic.
One of the best ways to prevent the spread of any type of bacterial or viral infection is very simple – good hand washing.
Probably the most controversial issue associated with the virus is whether a 21-day quarantine should be imposed on persons who have been in direct contact with the virus. Because of the devastating effects of the virus (over 50 perent who contract the disease, die), it is a small price to pay to ensure it does not spread. We are going into the flu season and one of the first symptoms to appear for both Ebola and flu is a fever. I do believe it is better to err on the side of caution than regret later.
We need to pray for the people of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Pray for God to give wisdom in helping to stop this deadly virus and to protect and bless those who are working with the ill in these countries.
Margaret Winters, Ph.D., is the associate professor of nursing. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column reflects the views of the writer only.