You’re sitting in a restaurant and the host seats an obviously sick person in a chair right next to your table. Can you tell if the person simply has a cold, the flu, or perhaps even the Ebola virus? When is it time just to make sure you wash your hands versus getting up and leaving?
Scenario #1 – A woman at the bus stop that is sneezing and coughing non-stop
Ebola? No. The Ebola virus is tough on the body. When symptoms start popping up in an infected person, he or she will have a high fever and piercing abdominal pains. It will be difficult for an infected person to get out of bed, much less get dressed and walk outside. If you have seen the video of the Dallas hospital nurse walking in her isolation suit to the ambulance you can see that it is hard for her to move at all. Ebola does cause coughing and sneezing, but not until the last part of the disease process. Ebola patients who start coughing and sneezing are already suffering internal bleeding and other pains that would have brought them to the emergency room days before. A sneezing or coughing person who can stand and move about does not have the Ebola Virus.
What to do? She most likely has the flu or a cold. Wash your hands after interacting with her.
Scenario #2 – A young man walks into the room with red eyes and a red runny nose
Ebola? No. Red and runny noses, red and itchy eyes, and sneezing are all classic signs of allergies. Someone with these types of symptoms that otherwise feels OK does not have the Ebola virus.
What to do? Don’t worry.
Scenario #3 – A neighbor who calls to say she is too sick to get out of bed. She has a fever and alternately feels chilly and hot. She has diarrhea and threw up the day before
Ebola? Maybe. Did your neighbor recently return from a trip from Liberia, Sierra Leone, or other central African country?
- If yes – then she may have the Ebola virus. Call 911 and explain the situation. Be sure to inform the dispatcher that your concerns about Ebola. Wash your hands immediately. Monitor your own symptoms for 21 days and call your doctor if you get any kind of temperature.
- If no – then the poor lady has the flu. Give her water, soda, or anything that she can keep down to keep hydrated. If her symptoms don’t improve in a day have her call her doctor’s office. Wear a mask when bringing her the chicken soup and wash your hands and/or use alcohol based sanitizer after any interaction with her.
Use Universal Precautions this Winter to Protect Yourself
Chances are that the only people who have the Ebola virus in the United States are people who brought it with them from trip to cities suffering outbreaks. Nurses and other caregivers who treat Ebola patients need to be extra careful during gowning and de-gowning to make sure they do not let infected fluids make their way to the eyes or other vulnerable areas. Everyone else, though, is going to be safe.
Universal precautions we all should follow this winter include:
- Wash your hands several times a day
- Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer
- Wipe down tables, trays, or anything that may come in contact with food with alcohol wipes or your hand sanitizer and a napkin
- Keep your hands away from your face. Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth unless you have recently cleaned your hands with soap or used sanitizer
Richard Buchler is a board certified healthcare executive and managing director of Trauma Ready. He lives in Chicago, IL.