Fort Worth, Texas,
22
August
2014
|
10:07 PM
America/Chicago

Are you concerned about Ebola?

The Doc Smitty explains what concerns him more

The two Americans who contracted the Ebola virus while caring for people in West Africa have been discharged. I’m sure many of you are relieved, while still concerned, especially after you heard that Dr. Kent Brantly may be moving back to the DFW area.

I understand the fear. Ebola is a terrifying disease. Symptoms start off similar to flu and progress to liver and kidney failure, followed by internal and external bleeding and then often times by death (about 60 percent of the cases).

So, I get it, it’s scary. The way people die from Ebola is very unpleasant which makes it even scarier. But it shouldn’t be the scariest infectious disease to us. Here are three reasons why:

Reason No. 1 – It’s actually not that contagious.

Ebola is transmitted via blood and body fluids. Contrast that with measles and flu, which are spread via droplets. Obviously, doctors are using extreme caution when treating patients with Ebola and I agree with that. However, the likelihood of catching Ebola from being in the same room with a person with it is not that high. If someone with measles or flu coughs or sneezes near you, it’s very possible that you will contract the disease.

Hepatitis A is another virus that can spread quickly because it is spread via a pathway called the fecal-oral route (yes, it’s as gross as it sounds). It causes vomiting and in severe cases, liver failure. Outbreaks of Hepatitis A often occur when a food worker unknowingly spreads the disease by handling the food with contaminated hands.

Meningococcal meningitis is another illness that commonly spreads quickly and anyone who has been in the room with an infected person is at risk. Outbreaks used to occur commonly on college campuses prior to the introduction of universal vaccination. Health care workers who are exposed to a patient with meningitis have to undergo treatment to try to prevent contracting the disease. So remember that when the person next to you in a room looks sick; it’s probably not Ebola, but it could be any of these other scary things.

Reason No. 2 - People with Ebola are not contagious until the affected person is sick.

Because patients with Ebola are very sick, they are unlikely to be walking around infecting everyone in their path. There will not be people walking around looking fine, unknowingly spreading the disease to everyone they meet. This is not the case for many other infections. See my example for Hepatitis A above.

Pertussis, or whooping cough, is another disease where many infected people (usually adults) can walk around contagious for weeks at a time coughing the bacteria on everyone they meet. Pertussis is not that serious in adults (aside from an occasional broken rib here and there), but it can be deadly in small babies. Despite being sick, many people with flu suck it up and trudge into work or school because they think flu isn’t that big of a deal. The problem is that while one person may not have trouble with flu, they may have contact with small infants, pregnant women or older adults who can have significant complications from it.

Another disease that affects 1/3 of sexually active teenagers and adults is human papilloma virus (HPV). Most often boys and girls who carry HPV do not know they are infected and thus spread it to their sexual partners. HPV by itself is a troubling problem, but even more troubling is the fact that HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer (about 99.7 percent of cases).

Reason No. 3 - Ebola is not that common and has not been transmitted in the United States.

The world-wide, all-time death total from Ebola sits in the thousands … the world-wide death toll from measles was 122,000 in 2012 alone. Ebola has a very high rate of death and severe illness, much more so than measles, but because measles is much more common it affects many, many more people. There has never been a case of Ebola transmitted from person to person in the United States. There have been over 600 cases of measles in the United States thus far in 2014. What about deaths? Fortunately, there were no deaths from measles, but in 2012 there were 52 deaths from the flu just in pediatric patients. It’s a simple reminder that we sometimes forget how dangerous things are when we have not heard about them for a while.

Now what?

If you aren’t convinced that many of these other infectious diseases are a more immediate concern for you than Ebola, I understand. When things are new and sound scary they tend to take over your mind. But after reading all the points I’ve made above, know there is something you can do to protect your child from the other diseases I’ve mentioned …

Every single bolded disease has a vaccine! While vaccines are not perfect and getting a vaccine in some cases does not protect you 100 percent, they significantly decrease your chances of contracting any of these diseases. In many cases, if vaccines don’t completely prevent the disease, they make the case milder and less serious. If you agree with my concerns about these other diseases, give your child the best chance by having them vaccinated.

I hope I’ve addressed all of your questions or concerns. Maybe, you still have questions about the diseases mentioned here or the vaccines to fight them? If so, please talk to your pediatrician.  

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Justin Smith, M.D., is a Cook Children's pediatrician in Lewisville . He attended University of Texas, Southwestern Medical School and did his pediatric training at Baylor College of Medicine. He joins Cook Children's after practicing in his hometown of Abilene for four years. He has a particular interest in development, behavior and care for children struggling with obesity. In his spare time, he enjoys playing with his 3 young children, exercising, reading and writing about parenting and pediatric health issues.

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