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Doctor: Take The Fight To Ebola

EbolaBy Karen Rizzo, MD

Many of us suspected that there would be a day when Ebola would arrive in the United States and indeed it has.  A man who travelled from Liberia was recently diagnosed and died in Texas.

While not an epidemic in the United States at this moment, the first case diagnosed in our country is proof that Ebola could someday come to Pennsylvania. That’s why we must be extremely serious about being prepared and taking appropriate precautions.

Blogger Gus Geraci MD, who serves as the consulting chief medical officer at the Pennsylvania Medical Society, raises a good point in his October 3 column.  He notes that it is important for our health care frontline to take thorough patient histories.  Asking about travel history is extremely important because Ebola’s symptoms are similar to many common ailments like the flu.  It’s equally important that all members of the medical team are aware of suspicious cases.  It takes a team to provide the best care and everyone who has contact with a patient should be aware of the symptoms and signs of Ebola.

In a letter to the editor appearing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Brian Broker MD writes, “Waiting for obvious symptoms in infected people will not stop the spread.” He suggests that our federal government may need to take stronger measures even before an infectious patient reaches our health care frontline.  Certainly the first case in the United States signals the need for vigilance here, and abroad.

Shortly after Dr. Broker made his point, Reuters reported that the U.S. will implement extra Ebola screening at five airports with heavy travel from West Africa.

Even American communities connected to West Africa are raising preventive ideas.  The Rev. Joseph Koroma, president of the Christian Association of Sierra Leone in Philadelphia, told WHYY FM that his group is encouraging its members to be “really, really proactive.” Koroma’s church is discouraging close contact with those just returning from countries with cases of Ebola, even if those travelers are sure they weren’t exposed to the virus.

All are good ideas. When it comes to fighting Ebola, there’s no margin of error.  Proactive measures like those offered by Drs. Geraci and Broker as well as Rev. Koroma are a step in the right direction.

Furthermore, it’s good to see our state political and health care leaders being equally proactive.  Pennsylvania Physician General Carrie DeLone MD and her colleagues at the state department of health have been working diligently to keep hospitals, physicians, and other health care professionals in the loop and educated about Ebola.  Both the Pennsylvania Medical Society and Hospital & Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania are also involved in keeping their members up to speed on available information. Many healthcare facilities and professionals are training and drilling to handle Ebola.

So what are some things that you can do? The answer won’t surprise you.  You can do the same things that you would do to prevent the flu and other illnesses.

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, or use alcohol-based hand rubs.
  • If you’re caring for a friend or family member, avoid contact with body fluids and tissues, including blood, semen, vaginal secretions and saliva.

Of course, if you do travel overseas, avoid areas of known outbreaks. And, if you can’t avoid travel to a known outbreak area, monitor your health closely and follow all the preventive tips above along with others recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.

Taking the fight to Ebola, either through frontline health care professionals, government agencies, or even our own houses and religious worship locations, will be key to protecting the health of Pennsylvanians. And, in doing so, we may even prevent a few other illnesses.

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Dr. Rizzo becomes president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society on October 18, 2014. (Photo by CDC Global via Flickr)

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