Ebola scare: Local doctor breaks down fear vs fact

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While Ebola concerns have prompted some businesses and schools to shut down, a leading specialist in infectious diseases says the decisions are being made based on fear, not fact.

Dr. Amy Ray, Infectious Disease Specialist & System Chair of Infection Control and Prevention at University Hospitals, has some commonly-asked questions and the answers below.

And, Dr. James Kazura, Director, Center for Global Health and Disease, joined us for a Facebook chat Thursday night; read some of his answers to your questions on our FOX 8 Facebook page.

Q:  What do we know today?

A:  “What we do know now is that Amber Vinson had a low-grade fever on Monday, 99.5.  She did not have symptoms otherwise so we are told at this time.  Therefore, the risk of transmission to those around her is still very, very small.  Nevertheless, we will continue to watch for secondary cases of transmission in the Northeast Ohio area.

Q:  What about the people who were in direct & indirect contact with Vinson?

A:  “When we speak about contact with her, the second nurse, we’re speaking about direct contact.  Contact with her skin or her bodily fluids over a time period.  So just being in her vicinity, breathing her air, drinking water at the airport, walking through the airport, those are not risk factors for risk transmission."

Q:  What about the panic and fear in Northeast Ohio?

A: "I think the most important to understand is there have been no Ebola cases in Northeast Ohio.  There is not Ebola virus circulating in the Northeast Ohio community at this time.  We don’t predict it will circulate in this community.  So my best advice is to perform good hand hygiene, get an influenza vaccine; we’re headed into flu season.  We on the health care front are screening patients who come in for care for risk factors for Ebola acquisition, so we stay updated and prepared."

Q:  What about the Ohio Department of Health's mandatory quarantine?

A:  “I think it’s important to outline how public health in the United States works.  So the CDC delegates to our local public health authorities how to manage the passengers on the flight.  So those decisions are being made at the state and county level regarding quarantine and furlough from work.  I think it’s very low-risk for secondary transmission after contact with this nurse.  It’s highly unlikely she was infectious during her time in northeast Ohio."

Q:  But Vinson DID have a fever Monday.

A:  “Ebola is not an infection that has lingering days of low-grade fevers.  Rather, Ebola infection has abrupt onset of fever.  Having that medical knowledge, comforts me that her time from October 10 - 13 in Northeast Ohio she was not fevered."

Q:  What about the businesses and schools shut down?

A:   “Take a deep breath.  Let us educate and provide advice to the public on Ebola transmission.  This was not a patient who was vomiting on Flight 1143 on Monday.  She was not ill even in appearance.  So the risk is infinitesimal at this point and local businesses are making decisions based on fear, not fact."

Q:  How long does Ebola survive on a surface?

A:  “There’s a paucity of data of how long Ebola survives on surfaces.  It can be a couple seconds to a couple minutes.  The good news is this: It’s eliminated by disinfectant and bleach.  When the CDC looked to find Ebola in the vicinity of a local patient, it found no recovery of Ebola in the patient’s surroundings, his or her high-touch objects in that room, suggesting at least based upon that, it does not survive on inanimate objects."

Q:  So, what about anyone who used the restroom or washed dishes in the same place Vinson did?

A:  “There’s no risk to the water. Our water is chlorinated.  There’s no risk to the water or foods that we buy in the grocery store.  Ebola is not transmitted in those forms."

Q:  What about if she got her hair washed at the salon?   

A:  “In the absence of fever the patient was not shedding virus onto her skin, her mucus membranes.  It really requires the presence of fever and clinical symptoms.  So having her hair done is not a risk to that hairdresser or other people in the salon."

Q:  What about the virus spreading through the handling of money?

A:  “Very unlikely, almost impossible for the virus to spread through that means.  The virus is not going to survive outside a human host for more than a few seconds.  The risk is almost zero."

Q:  What about the loved ones of this nurse?  What if they kissed?

A:  “Yes, Ebola can be detected in saliva.  However, I am quite sure that the significant others of the nurses are under careful watch by the CDC and public health authorities for symptom development."

QWhat about pets?

A:  “Dogs and cats have never been known to be infected with the Ebola virus in medical history.  So, at this time there’s no need to quarantine an exposed pet."

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