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Ebola - Frequently Asked Questions

Sansum Clinic continues to closely monitor the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the effect it is having in the U.S. and throughout the world.

Nothing is more important than the health and wellbeing of our patients. We are actively following guidance from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and working with the Public Health Department and experts in our own Infectious Disease Department to ensure that we have the proper protocols in place, should anyone present with a risk of exposure.

Although we realize that the risk of Ebola in our community remains exceedingly low, we also realize that it is important be prepared if we do encounter patients who have a travel exposure history which could put them, or others, at risk.

Following are answers to some of the frequently asked questions we have received from patients. This is accurate as of October 20, 2014 and we will update this page as the information changes.

What is Ebola?

Ebola is a severe viral infection that occurs in humans and nonhuman primates (such as monkeys, chimpanzees, etc.) In 2014, there has been a big outbreak of Ebola virus disease in parts of West Africa. The countries that have been affected include: 

  • Guinea
  • Liberia
  • Sierra Leone
  • Nigeria (now eradicated)

How do you determine if a patient is at risk for Ebola?

Diagnosing Ebola in a person who has been infected for only a few days can be difficult because the early symptoms, such as fever and muscle aches, are not specific to Ebola infection and are seen often in patients with much more commonly occurring infections, such as the flu. As a result, it is important to determine if a patient has any exposure history which could put them at risk for an Ebola infection. If a patient has potentially been exposed to the Ebola virus, based upon a travel and exposure history, appropriate measures would be taken to isolate that person until it is established whether or not the person actually has an Ebola virus infection.

As a result, the questions we ask are:

Within the past 28 days:

  • Has the patient been to West Africa (Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone)?
  • Has the patient been in contact with anyone who has been suspected to have or been diagnosed with Ebola?
  • Has the patient been exposed to animals (bats, rodents, primates) from those involved countries?

If the answers to all of the above questions are NO, the patient is NOT at risk for having an Ebola infection. It would not be appropriate to quarantine that person or resort to any disease control measures in these cases.

  • International travel to other locations and locations in other parts of Africa is NOT a risk factor for Ebola.
  • Contact with international travelers from other countries in Africa is NOT a risk factor for Ebola.
  • International travel and transit through major airports with flights into and out of West Africa is NOT a risk factor for Ebola.

Patients with fever, diarrhea, flu-like symptoms without travel to West Africa, without contact with an Ebola patient or without contact with animals from endemic areas, can be reassured that their illness is NOT Ebola and should be evaluated for more common causes of these symptoms (like influenza). 

How is Ebola Transmitted?

Ebola can be spread only by an infected person, when that person is sick with fever and other symptoms. If a person is healthy and has no symptoms, he/she can not spread the virus to anyone else.

Ebola is NOT as infectious as the flu or common cold. How easily infection is spread from one person to another is directly related to the level of virus in the body. On day one of illness, when a person develops a fever, the level of virus in the body is low. As a person gets sicker and the symptoms become more intense, the virus level increases in the body and fluids from the Ebola infected person, and as a result, the risk of contracting the disease following contact with the sick person dramatically increases.

When an infection does occur, there are several ways that the virus can be spread to others.  These include:

  • Direct contact with the blood or body fluids (including feces, saliva, urine, vomit and semen) of a person who is sick with Ebola.
  • Contact with objects (like needles or syringes) that have been contaminated with the blood or body fluids of an infected person or with infected animals.

What are the symptoms of Ebola?

At first, the symptoms are like those of the flu, and include:

  • Sudden onset of fever (greater than 100.0F), chills, and feeling sick
  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Severe headache Body and back aches

A few days after the first symptoms start, other symptoms can develop, including:

  • Watery diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Belly pain Rash — Some people get a rash of raised, red bumps, usually on the face, neck, trunk, and arms. The areas with rash can sometimes shed their skin.
  • Bleeding or bruising — This doesn’t happen to everyone. If it does happen, it can show up as tiny purple spots (where blood vessels have burst) or oozing blood from the mouth, nose, eyes, or anywhere that the skin has been broken.

Symptoms may appear anywhere from 2-21 days after exposure to Ebola but the average is 8-10 days after exposure.

What should I do if I think I may have Ebola?

If you have a fever above 100.0F and/or Ebola type symptoms AND in the past 28 days, have visited West Africa, been in contact with a known or suspected Ebola case, or directly handled animals from areas where Ebola is infecting people, CALL the Santa Barbara Public Health Disease Control Program Office at (805) 681-5280. They will set in motion a plan to have you evaluated and determine appropriate care. 

Please do not walk in unannounced to Urgent Care Clinics, Emergency Rooms or doctors’ offices. In order to provide the best care for you or your family, you need to CALL before you come to seek help.

If you have NOT traveled to an Ebola risk area, and have no other risk factors for Ebola, you may seek medical care in the usual fashion from your health care provider.

Sansum Clinic is also devising protocols for the highly unlikely scenario where a potential Ebola risk patient fails to follow the above guidelines. In that situation, a patient would be met at the entrance and escorted by designated staff in protective gear to an appropriate secure location while awaiting guidance from the Public Health Department and the Hospital.

What is the treatment for Ebola?

Currently, there are no specific vaccines or medicines (such as antiviral drug) that have been proven to be effective against Ebola. The treatment is supportive care, which means that the symptoms of Ebola are treated as they appear and consist of hydration, maintaining blood pressure and oxygen status and treating other infections if they occur. There are experimental treatments that are being used in the few cases of Ebola that have been treated in the US. 

Recovery from Ebola depends on the patient’s immune response. People who recover from Ebola infection develop antibodies that may last for several years and may be protective against subsequent infection.

How long does Ebola live on surfaces? How is it killed?

Ebola virus on dry surfaces, such as doorknobs and countertops, can survive only for a few hours; however, virus in body fluids (such as blood) can survive several days at room temperature.

Ebola virus is killed with common household bleach as well as with hospital grade disinfectants. Any disinfectant with a label claim for killing non-enveloped viruses (such as norovirus or adenovirus) should be used to disinfect surfaces in rooms of patients with suspected or confirmed infection.

What should I do if I have traveled to West Africa in the past 28 days OR had contact with a known or suspected Ebola patient in the past 28 days but don’t have any symptoms?

Please contact the Santa Barbara Public Health Disease Control Program Office at (805) 681-5280. They will set in motion a plan to have you monitored to ensure your health and safety.

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