With symptoms ranging from fever and muscle pain to vomiting and unexplained bleeding, the deadly Ebola virus is a critical global health concern. But osteopathic physicians (DOs) say it's important to keep fears about contracting Ebola in perspective. "This is truly a disaster in West Africa," explains Jerry Blackburn, DO, an infectious diseases specialist from Farmington Hills, Michigan. "But a major outbreak here [in the U.S.] is unlikely." Speaking at the AOA's Osteopathic Medical Conference & Exposition (OMED), Dr. Blackburn noted that Ebola-stricken communities in West Africa are often working with less-than-optimal medical resources and in areas that lack a strong public health infrastructure, producing conditions that typically aren't found in the U.S.
Robert I. Danoff, DO, an osteopathic family physician from Philadelphia, agrees it's key to contextualize statistics about Ebola. "Is it a scary virus? Is it a big concern? Absolutely," he says. But, he points out, it's predicted that between 3,000 and 49,000 people will die and 200,000 will be hospitalized this year from complications related to the flu. If you're concerned about contracting a virus this year, he said, consider talking with your physician about getting a flu shot.
How Ebola Spreads
Questions and misconceptions about the virus have proliferated as the outbreak in West Africa continues. Could your dog or cat spread Ebola? Do mosquitoes carry the virus? Can Ebola be transmitted through hugging? These questions are among the top 10 things to know about Ebola, says the CDC, and the answers are no, no, and no.
The Ebola virus is not spread through airborne contact. To contract Ebola, the CDC explains, "you have to directly get body fluids from someone who is sick with Ebola in your mouth, nose, eyes or through a break in your skin or through sexual contact."
Dr. Danoff notes that in the U.S., health care workers are most at risk of contracting Ebola because they're the most likely people to come into contact with the bodily fluids of an Ebola patient. "Next to the people in Western Africa who are right there, who are caretakers," he says, "it is health care providers in this country and there who have the highest risk."