Wednesday 15 October 2014

Ebola in the UK - What you need to know

Last week on my Facebook timeline a status appeared from fellow blogger Cat, it read -
Oh for god's sake! It's easier to kill than MRSA, harder to catch than CDiff and won't kill as many people as flu this year. Why are people so determined to panic? Remember when we were all going to die of swine flu in 2009? You can kill it with soap and water people, just wash your bloody hands and don't lick any sweaty ill looking people who've been in Africa in the last two weeks.
This really made me sit up and take notice, you can kill Ebola with soap and water, seriously? I had no idea and I suspect most of the rest of the British public have no idea either. So this led to a week of me reading, watching and investigating Ebola to see what I could find out.

Now obviously it is always good to question the credibility of our sources and this was the first thing Cat pointed out to me, that she is not a medical professional. However, as an NHS Manager she has a good overview and she pointed me to an article written by the American Academy of Pediatrics and thus very reputable.  Make sure you read this, it is fabulous and totally no nonsense and you will come away feeling reassured.

Photo credit:

If you want an in-a-nutshell version, that take a look at my 'what you need to know' section below -

What is Ebola? It is a viral infection that is actually pretty hard to spread.

What are the symptoms of Ebola? Firstly there will be a sudden high temperature and then other symptoms develop like severe headache, muscle pain, weakness, diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach pain, or unexplained bleeding or bruising.

What is the onset of the virus once you catch it? The time from infection with the virus to the onset of symptoms is from 2 to 21 days (with 8 to 10 days being most common).

When does an infected person become contagious? They can infect others as soon as they begin to have symptoms.

So how does Ebola spread? It is spread by direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person (either dead or alive). Unlike other viruses it cannot be spread by air or by water. Being near a patient who is coughing or sneezing won't give you Ebola, unless their bodily fluid - saliva or mucus comes into direct contact with your eyes, nose, or mouth or an open cut, wound, or abrasion. Check out the Centre for Disease Control page for more on how Ebola spreads.

Can I catch Ebola from touching a door handle or money? The likeliness of catching Ebola via an inanimate object is highly unlikely, the dried virus only lasts a few hours on a surface but it can last a few days if carried in blood and kept at room temperature. Hospital-grade disinfection (that is household bleach to me and you) kills Ebola instantly. So with good basic cleanliness there is no need for it to spread in this manner.

How can Ebola be killed?  Here is the really great news Ebola is not a resistant virus, it can be killed by soap and water, disinfection, heat or a sanitising agent.

Why is Ebola spreading so quickly in West Africa? Sadly the health care system, sanitation, communication and transportation in the affected countries is nothing like what we have here in the UK. I watched a really interesting program on 4OD the other day about Ebola, it is part of the Unreported World series and I would highly recommend a watch if you would like a greater understanding of why Ebola is spreading so fast in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. It showed me that help came too late to these countries, that education of how it spreads and can be treated is desperately needed, that people are hiding their loved ones in the villages as they fear the treatment centres as places of sure death and that funeral rituals dictate you touch your dead loved ones. All these things add up to the rapid spread of Ebola there.

How can someone with Ebola be treated?  There is no vaccine for Ebola at the moment but Ebola can often be effectively treated in a person with an otherwise healthy immune system. Anti-nausea drugs and fluids to keep them hydrated can lead to recovery from Ebola when it is caught early. Here in the UK we have excellent health care and as long as anyone with symptoms of Ebola comes forward quickly there is no reason why they should not recover.

Do survivors become immune?  At the moment it is known that survivors of Ebola have immunity for at least ten years and they cannot pass the infection to anyone. The only thing that the virus can survive in is semen and thus any recovered male should abstain from sex or use condoms for at least three months after recovery.

What about the forecast 10,000 cases per week by Christmas, should I be scared? I don't think so, I'm really quite cross with how the media are reporting on this. When you watch the clip of WHO assistant director-general Bruce Aylward he says he predicts 5,000 to 10,000 cases per week and of course just look at this BBC news article to see it is the 10,000 figure being used. But he is not talking about cases in the UK, the majority of those cases will be in the countries that already have the mass infection or it will be in other countries with low health care provision that perhaps neighbour them.

I'll leave you with a link to an excellent article by ONE CEO Michael Elliott.

If you feel that countries like Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea deserve better then please do sign up to ONE and add your voice to the fight against extreme poverty and all the tragedies that come as part of poverty.

Next week I'll be in Washington, DC with ONE and I'll learn more about Ebola and the effect it is having on people's lives, please follow #AYASummit if you are interested to find out more.
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