Mississippi’s epidemiologist and top expert on Ebola says the disease is a threat to take seriously, but not fear.
“At this point, there is little chance we will see a true Ebola case in Mississippi,” said Dr. Thomas Dobbs, who holds a Doctorate of Medicine from Emory University, and a Master’s in Public Health from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “Having said that, Ebola is a risk we take very seriously. We have detailed plans in case to deal with any potential incident among the general public or health care workers in Mississippi.”
Dr. Dobbs adds that fears in the public about the deadly infectious disease have been elevated in recent weeks by the media and unfounded rumors. When asked about a case reported in the Jackson Clarion Ledger of a high school principal who was shunned by his school’s parents after he returned from a trip to Africa, the Jackson-based health official and physician agreed this kind of panic is unreasonable. Read the story here.
“In reality, our focus should be on the flu,” he said. “H1N1 Influenza kills thousands of people every year, which is a real threat that we can minimize with widespread vaccine application and good health education.”
So what is the education the public needs regarding Ebola to calm fears?
Dr. Dobbs says it’s important to remember that while Ebola carries near 100 percent mortality rates for infected individuals, it’s simply not as contagious as conditions like the flu. That’s because the disease is not airborne. “Unless you become infected by body fluids — typically from someone very sick, possibly hemorrhaging or presenting bloody diarrhea, for example, you’re unlikely to be at risk.”
And that’s the case presumably only if you travel to the African countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, where the only certified cases thus far have been diagnosed. “Ebola is not an airborne virus — so it”s not as contagious as other viruses. Each case we’re aware of originated in West Africa and the rate of infection is low compared with other infectious diseases,” Dr. Dobbs explained.
For more on the relatively low infection rate of Ebola, click on this NPR report.
On the other hand, infected health care workers who come into contact with Ebola victims must take extreme precautions, agrees Dr. Dobbs. “The first step in our approach is to identify people with travel histories that put them at risk,” he said. “We stay in touch with those individuals and the presentation of any symptoms, we would isolate the individual, notify proper health authorities and begin treatment.”
Ebola symptoms are similar to other hemorrhagic fever viruses. They include fever, fatigue, malaise, reddened eyes, weakness, joint pain, muscle pain, headache, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Additional Ebola symptoms include a loss of appetite and often stomach pains.
Armed with a detailed state and national plan to deal with Ebola and armed with the medical facts that define it’s risk to the public, Dr. Dobbs offers one last reminder to bolster confidence: “We’ve had no cases in Mississippi and no legitimate suspects.”
Dr. Dobbs is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine as a Diplomate in Internal Medicine and Infectious Disease. Prior to joining the Department of Health, he practiced as an infectious disease physician and served as past secretary of the South Mississippi Medical Society. His professional affiliations include membership in the American Medical Association, the Mississippi State Medical Association and the Infectious Diseases Society of America, as well as serving on the Clinical Advisory Committee of the National HIVQUAL Project of the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration.
Andy Knef is editor of HottyToddy.com. Comments about this story can be emailed to Andy at Andy.Knef@HottyToddy.com.
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