If you are planning to travel with your children, in this country or abroad, there is presently no reason to change your plans due to the Ebola outbreak – even though this is a deadly illness with travel playing an important role in in its spread, says the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The CDC does advise against visiting the countries in West Africa where the disease is currently endemic. These countries are among the poorest in the world and are rarely visited by travelers.
Here is what you should know:
Ebola is one of the deadliest infectious diseases known to man. It generally causes severe pain, internal bleeding, kidney and liver failure, shock, coma, and other life-threatening conditions.
A travel history should be part of every medical examination. If medical personnel fail to ask you where your family has traveled recently, tell them. Numerous illnesses have strong geographical links. Flu-like symptoms, for example, can be Ebola, malaria – or, most of the time, the flu. Even within the United States, there are illnesses found in the Southwest that are rarely seen in the Northeast.
Children are no more susceptible to Ebola than adults. In fact, in previous outbreaks in Africa, children were less affected (CDC: Journal of Emerging Diseases, October 2014). This may be because children had less contact with infected adults or for unknown reasons. It is not unusual for diseases to have a predilection for individuals of certain ages. (In Africa, one very sad consequence of the Ebola outbreak is the large number of children left orphaned.)
Ebola does not spread through the air. People become infected with Ebola from direct contact with virus-containing blood, sputum or other body fluids of infected individuals, or by touching objects such as needles that have been contaminated with infected fluids. The virus then enters uninfected individuals through broken skin or membranes in the mouth or eyes. Family members and healthcare workers caring for the ill individual are at greatest risk. Frequent and thorough hand washing may help prevent infection.
Infected individuals do not spread the virus until they show symptoms of being ill. This is contrary to most childhood infections, which start spreading several days before symptoms surface – while children are still attending daycare and school, greatly abetting the spread of the disease.
Animals appear to be the reservoir of the virus. People in Africa become ill from close contact with animals harboring the virus. Suspect animals include chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys, forest antelope, pigs, porcupines and fruit bats. In the poor countries where Ebola exists, people live in close contact with the animals.
Early symptoms are vague. Symptoms include fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, weakness, tiredness, sore throat and chills. As the disease progresses, other symptoms begin appearing: bleeding inside and outside of the body, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea (often bloody), bruising and other skin rashes, and difficulty breathing and swallowing.
Prompt diagnosis and isolation are vital to help prevent spread. Often, only a good travel history will raise the suspicion of the presence of a serious disease. Medical personnel must wear proper protective gear. Various blood tests and viral studies help make the diagnosis. Ebola can appear from 2 to 21 days after someone has been exposed to the virus. Most people’s symptoms begin 8-10 days after exposure.
There is as yet no specific treatment for Ebola. Experimental drugs and vaccines have been used recently but it is too early to evaluate the results. Presently, treatment consists of replacing blood lost by bleeding, maintaining vital signs, supplying oxygen, and treating complications as they appear. Currently about 50% of victims die.