Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC reports that the possibility of the Ebola virus spreading to the U.S. is remote, Dr. Rutul Dalal, infectious disease specialist at Susquehanna Health says it is important for residents to be educated about the virus and prevention precautions.
Recently, there has been an outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa and it has caught the attention of the U.S. media due to two Americans lending aid in the region becoming infected. But there have been no cases reported in our country.
Nevertheless, some people are still concerned and asking whether the virus could come here.
"It is possible for the virus to travel to the U.S. due to its extended incubation period of 2-21 days," Dalal said. "But luckily, we do not have an international airport in Williamsport, the closest being Philadelphia."
After a person has been exposed to the Ebola virus, it can take up to three weeks for symptoms to (appear). The most common time to develop symptoms is between eight and 10 days after exposure. The first signs are flu-like.
Those infected experience severe headaches, rash, fever and pain in the upper and lower extremities.
"Surprisingly enough, the next symptom is hiccups," said Dalal.
The next stage can bring on sore throat, severe abdominal pain and vomiting. Finally, hemorrhaging, or bleeding from the brain, and other internal bleeding eventually leads to death.
Dalal agrees that people overreacting to common cold symptoms and flooding the hospitals is a worry. But because the CDC reports that Ebola has only been found in African countries-Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Gabon, Sudan, Ivory Coast, Uganda and South Africa-hospitals can easily rule out those who haven't traveled to the area in the last 3 weeks.
However, if someone is presenting symptoms, and has the risk factor of traveling to one of those countries is admitted, our hospitals are prepared.
"Strict isolation is step number one," Dalal said. "No one enters that room without droplet isolation masks, semi-impermeable gowns and gloves that are not porous, latex or nitrate gloves."
Not a single piece of skin should be exposed when handling a person who could be infected with the Ebola virus. Direct contact with the infected, especially with their bodily secretions, is how Ebola spreads.
This is why, Dalal explains, healthcare professionals who treat infected patients are at the highest risk of contracting the virus.
Today, there is no licensed vaccine for Ebola, so doctors treat the virus by just trying to keep the patient as healthy as possible so their body can fight it.
"As of now, what we do for treatment is give patients fluids and electrolytes, maintain their nutrition and oxygenization, and of course, try to stem the bleeding," said Dalal.
However, there are vaccines in phase one clinical trials. This means they have been tested on animals but not humans. In dire cases, hospitals can request these vaccines and administer them to a patient if they consent. But because these drugs have yet to be tested on humans, there could be unforseen side effects.
Dr. Kent Bradley and Nancy Writebol, the Americans who were infected in Liberia, were given one of these vaccines, called ZMapp. Both of their conditions significantly improved after receiving the medication. However, it cannot be confidently said that it's the drug that is causing their recovery because some people naturally build up an immunity to Ebola and survive.
Though we may see a vaccine for the Ebola virus in the future, the CDC and infectious disease specialists like Dr. Dalal preach prevention.
"As of now, prevention is the cure," Dalal said.