The tragic Ebola outbreak currently ravaging West Africa is heartbreaking, and the news of the first confirmed case diagnosed in the U.S. had many in the Portland region questioning Oregon’s preparedness should Ebola reach our home state. Although the odds of seeing a patient with the virus in Oregon are very small, OHSU is prepared to safely house and treat any patient with suspected or confirmed Ebola virus.
It’s important to be informed about the virus, the symptoms, and the probability of seeing even a few cases anywhere in the United States, including Oregon. Here are some important points to keep in mind about the Ebola virus:
1. What is Ebola?
Ebola is a virus that can cause a severe, often-deadly illness that can spread from person to person.
2. How does Ebola spread?
People can catch Ebola by touching the blood, vomit, diarrhea, urine, or other body fluids of an infected person. Coming into contact with objects like soiled linens used while caring for a person sick with Ebola can also spread the virus.
An infected person does not transmit the virus until after symptoms develop.
Ebola is not spread through the air or by water.
3. What are the symptoms of Ebola?
The first symptoms of Ebola are fever, weakness, muscle aches, headache, and sore throat. Vomiting and diarrhea usually follow these initial symptoms. People sick with Ebola may also have bleeding inside and outside of the body. The average onset of symptoms is typically within 8 to 10 days but can appear anywhere between 2 and 21 days. People may die of Ebola if their bodies lose too much blood and fluids.
4. Where is Ebola occurring?
The countries where Ebola virus has been identified recently include Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria, and Senegal – all in Africa. Only one case has been diagnosed in the U.S., when a man traveling from Liberia started experiencing symptoms after he arrived in Texas.
5. How is Ebola treated?
There is not yet a cure for Ebola; to treat it, doctors provide supportive care, such as intravenous fluids, to those who are sick while their bodies work to fight and kill the virus. An experimental treatment was given to two Americans, who are alive and have been released from the hospital, but it is not known if the new treatment truly “cured” these patients.
6. Is it likely that Ebola will appear in Oregon?
It is highly unlikely that Ebola will appear in Oregon. However, in the unlikely event a case is diagnosed here, it’s important to keep in mind that past experience with controlling Ebola virus outbreaks has shown that good infection control practices can easily prevent spread of the virus.
Hospitals in the United States are equipped with advanced protective equipment and preventative methods that are very effective in blocking the transmission of viruses. Therefore, the spread of Ebola similar to what’s happening in West Africa is infinitely less likely here.
7. What is OHSU doing to prepare for a possible case of Ebola?
Portland-area hospitals, Emergency Medical Services, and county health departments are working together to be as prepared as possible to safely care for any patient with suspected or confirmed Ebola in the Portland region.
The OHSU Infection Prevention and Control Department ran a tabletop Ebola virus drill earlier this month, where several Ebola virus patient scenarios were discussed, from how an Ebola patient would be isolated to the cleaning and disinfection of contaminated items.
Although Ebola virus infection often causes severe illnesses and deaths, preventing contact with infected body fluids can prevent transmission. Personal protective equipment such as gowns, gloves, face masks and goggles are sufficient to protect healthcare workers who come into contact with patients. The virus is also killed easily by the disinfectants used in hospitals. OHSU hospitals already utilize disinfecting and sanitary measures in day-to-day operations. Health care staff is prepared to expand on the preventative measures already in place, if necessary.
8. What if someone in my family has a fever or other symptoms similar to Ebola?
Unless you or someone in your family has recently traveled to any of the West African countries affected by the Ebola epidemic, or been in close contact with someone who has, you are not at risk for contracting the Ebola virus.
If you or someone in your family has traveled to any of these locations and you start to have symptoms, notify your healthcare provider immediately and disclose all travel history.
Remember, the beginning of flu season is quickly approaching and many flu symptoms are similar to the initial symptoms caused by the Ebola virus, such as:
- A fever of 100 degrees or higher
- A cough and/or sore throat
- A runny or stuffy nose
- Headaches and/or body aches
- Chills, fatigue and/or weakness
- Nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea (most common in children)
If you or someone in your family experiences any of these symptoms, notify your healthcare provider. And, don’t forget to get the flu vaccine!
John Townes, MD
Medical Director, Infection Prevention and Control
Oregon Health & Science University
Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases
Oregon Health & Science University and Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center