Ebola: What Is It and Who Is at Risk?

Rutgers Physician Mafudia Suaray Discusses Virus Outbreak


Newswise — New Brunswick, NJ -- The outbreak of Ebola in four West African countries is one of the largest outbreaks of the disease in history, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On September 30, the CDC announced that the first case of Ebola had been confirmed in the United States. The CDC has been educating health professionals on the disease’s symptoms and treatment since the outbreak in West Africa became widespread, and providing guidance to health centers and hospitals on controlling the spread of the disease. As a result, infectious disease experts and emergency response personnel are reviewing and revising standard practices as a proactive measure.

Mafudia Suaray, a family physician at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, is helping to raise awareness about the disease. Born in Sierra Leone, one of the four countries in West Africa with the highest mortality rates from Ebola, Dr. Suaray has been educating family and friends, as well as fellow expatriates of West African countries. She answers some of the common questions about this new international health crisis and explains the risks of contracting the virus:

Question: What is Ebola?

Suaray: Ebola is a virus that causes an infection within the body. It is carried by fruit bats and, similar to H1N1 flu, has been transmitted from animals to humans. At the moment, there is no cure for the disease, although an experimental treatment is being tested.

Question: How is the virus spread?

Suaray: The virus is spread from person to person through contact with bodily fluids, including saliva, tears, sweat, urine, blood, stool and semen – it is not spread through the air. Anyone who comes in contact with a person who has Ebola or comes in contact with supplies that have been infected, such as needles, clothing or sheets, can contract the virus. It is important to emphasize that the virus cannot be spread through contact with intact skin and a person must have symptoms of the disease to spread it to others.

What is the risk of contracting Ebola?

Suaray: In the United States, the risk of contracting the disease is very low, especially as a result of the Level 3 Travel warning issued by the CDC asking citizens to restrict nonessential travel. If you have not travelled to one of the countries where there is an outbreak, or if you have not been in contact with someone who has travelled to West Africa, then you are not at risk for contracting Ebola. However, if someone has travelled to West Africa or to a country that has not implemented travel restrictions, they should be aware of the symptoms of Ebola, which can appear as soon as 48 hours after someone has become infected, but may take up to 21 days. Patients with symptoms and a travel history to West Africa or Nigeria should contact their physician.

What are the symptoms of Ebola?

Suaray: People who are infected with the Ebola virus will experience a high fever, vomiting and diarrhea, headache, muscle or body aches, and in some cases there may be a rash or bleeding. People who have some of these symptoms, but have not traveled to West Africa or Nigeria, nor have been in contact with someone who has, should not be concerned about Ebola. They should contact their physician, however, as the symptoms could be another illness, such as the flu.

Question: What are precautions people can take if they are concerned?

Suaray: Common sense preventive measures should always be a priority – whether for Ebola or for more common illnesses such as the cold and flu. First, always wash your hands. This can’t be emphasized enough. If you have a fever, then you are contagious and therefore should stay home to prevent infecting others; for a very high fever you should seek immediate medical attention. Also, cover your face when you cough or sneeze, preferably with a tissue or your arm, to prevent the spread of germs. Healthcare professionals should follow infection control standards provided by the CDC. If someone does have to travel to an infected region, they should discuss preventive measures with physicians who are experts in travel medicine.

For more information about Ebola visit: http://www.cdc.gov/.

About Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School

As one of the nation's leading comprehensive medical schools, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, part of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, is dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in education, research, health care delivery, and the promotion of community health. In cooperation with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, the medical school's principal affiliate, they comprise New Jersey's premier academic medical center. In addition, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School has 34 other hospital affiliates and ambulatory care sites throughout the region.

Robert Wood Johnson Medical School encompasses 20 basic science and clinical departments, and hosts centers and institutes including The Cardiovascular Institute, the Child Health Institute of New Jersey, the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine, the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute, and the Stem Cell Institute of New Jersey. The medical school maintains educational programs at the undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate levels for more than 1,500 students on its campuses in New Brunswick and Piscataway, and provides continuing education courses for health care professionals and community education programs. To learn more about Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, visit rwjms.rutgers.edu. Find us online at facebook.com/RWJMedicalSchool and twitter.com/RWJMS.

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