Ebola Virus

As we hear about a possible major outbreak of the Ebola Virus in Africa, people across the heartland have been asking if they are at risk? Dr.. Justin Puckett, from Complete Family Medicine, stopped by the set of Good Morning Heartland to break it down. WATCH VIDEO ABOVE to learn more.

Q. So tell us a little about the Ebola virus.

Perhaps no virus strikes as much fear in people as Ebola, the cause of a deadly outbreak in the West African nation of Guinea. The Ebola virus is a small virus, similar to the flu or hepatitis virus. It has caused several outbreaks since the mid 70s. Some even say the Plague of Athens may have been caused by Ebola. The virus is isolated to Western Africa at this time. There are 5 known types, of which 4 are known to cause Ebola Hemmorhagic Fever. It is named for the Ebola River, which runs near the Congolese village where one of the first outbreaks happened.

Q. So tell us a little more about the current outbreak in Africa.

The Guinea Ministry of Health has reported 127 cases of Ebola virus disease as of April 1, and 83 people had died, according to the World Health Organization. The cases of infected people include 14 health care workers, 8 of whom have died.

There ahve also been confirmed cases in nearby Liberia.

Q. How deadly is Ebola?

The Ebola strain in the Guinea outbreak is the most lethal of the five known strains of the virus. It is called Ebola Zaire and kills up to 9 out of 10 infected people. But the high death rate might be due to a lack of modern medical care. â??Itâ??s hard to say exactly what the death rate would be in a modern hospital with all of its intensive care units.â??

Q. What are the symptoms?

At first, the symptoms are like a bad case of the flu: high fever, muscle aches, headache, sore throat, and weakness. They are followed quickly by vomiting, diarrhea, and internal and external bleeding, which can spread the virus. The kidneys and liver begin to fail. People have been known to bleed from their ears and eyes.

Ebola Zaire kills people quickly, typically 7 to 14 days after symptoms appear.

A person can have the virus but not show any symptoms for as long as 3 weeks. But the people are not infectious during that time. In order to transmit the virus one must come into contact with blood or body fluids of an infected person, and since they are often so sick, transmission opportunities are minimized. People who survive can still have the virus in their system for weeks afterward.

Q. How does the virus spread?

A. Ebola isnâ??t as contagious as more common viruses, such as colds or influenza. It spreads to people by close contact with skin and bodily fluids from infected animals, such as fruit bats and monkeys. Then it spreads from person to person the same way. It can also spread indirectly, such as by sharing a towel with an infected person.

The Guinea government has banned bat soup, which is a delicacy in that country, to help stop the spread. â??The key message is to minimize bodily fluid exposures.â??

Q. Is there a cure or a vaccine to protect against it?

A. No, but scientists are working on both. There is no specific treatment for Ebola. The only treatments available now are supportive kinds, such as IV fluids and, if available, medications to level out blood pressure, a respirator, and transfusions.

Q. How can the outbreak be stopped?

A. Simple steps to control infection, such as gowns, gloves, and eye protection, will bring an end to it, Adalja says. â??Once basic hygiene is implemented,â?? he says, â??I believe this Ebola outbreak will extinguish itself, as they all have in the past.â?? Public health officials will have to wait a total of 6 weeks after the last case is reported before declaring the outbreak over.

Q. Could an Ebola outbreak happen in the United States?

A. Since the virus was first identified, all of the outbreaks in people have happened in Africa. It's possible that an infected person who appeared to be healthy could board a plane in Africa and fly to the U.S. but itâ??s not something that weâ??ve ever seen before. The outbreaks generally have happened in poor, isolated communities, so those infected didnâ??t have the resources to travel far. One of the five Ebola virus strains caused an outbreak in laboratory monkeys in Reston, VA, outside Washington, DC. People who were exposed to that strain of Ebola virus did not get sick. But they developed antibodies to it. There have been no reports of Ebola illnesses or death in people in the U.S. So much of the fear is simply hype at this point. It does bring up a reminder to how fortunate we are to have modern medication. I urge anyone in the heartland to not fear Ebola, but do whatever you can to support medical efforts, not only in West Africa, but around the world.

Dr. Justin Puckett, DO

Complete Family Medicine

1611 S. Baltimore

Kirksville, MO. 63501