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Although we are in the midst of another flu season here in Canada, it has been the Ebola virus recently dominating headlines and causing fears around the globe. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports more than 14,400 confirmed or suspected Ebola cases as of Nov. 11, 2014, mainly in the African countries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, thus making it the largest Ebola outbreak ever recorded. The current epidemic has led to over 5,100 deaths and the lack of any vaccine continues to cause fears of a global spread of Ebola. However, a closer look at the details regarding these events should ease nerves and help shift focus back to the greater threat of year’s influenza strain.

In the early stages of infection, it is difficult to differentiate Ebola from the flu as both cause non-specific symptoms such as sudden onset of fever, fatigue, headaches and a sore throat. However, Ebola patients will begin to develop vomiting and diarrhea after 3-6 days and approximately half will also experience hemorrhagic events such as nosebleeds, bloody diarrhea, and bruising typically occurring between 2 to 21 days after initial symptoms appearIt is also important to note that unlike the flu, Ebola is not an airborne virus. Furthermore, Ebola can only be transmitted once symptoms appear while flu patients can spread the virus before and during their illness.

Scientists believe that the first Ebola patient contracted the virus after handling an infected animal, possibly a fruit bat or monkey. Unlike humans, these animals are able to ‘host’ the virus without becoming severely ill. Once a human becomes infected, transmission to other people may occur only through direct contact with blood, secretions or other bodily fluids from an Ebola-infected person. In West Africa, this direct contact occurs during traditional West African funerals that involve washing and touching the deceased as part of the mourning process. This practice is not commonly followed in Canada and would limit the rate of transmission if the virus somehow found its way to North America.

You may have heard speculation that mortality rates for the current Ebola outbreak are as high as 90 percent. Keep in mind that these inflated rates are based on patient care settings that are not as sophisticated as the resources available in Canadian facilities. Insufficient medical care, shortage of supplies and a lack of funding are undoubtedly contributing to the epidemic. Although there is no specific treatment or vaccine currently available for Ebola, our hospitals are able to provide high-quality supportive care which can help boost the patient’s own immune system enough to overcome the virus on its’ own.

Therefore, at least within Canada, there is no reason to fear those with a fever or upset stomach. However, reasonable precautions should be followed if we encounter people with Ebola-like symptoms who have also travelled to West Africa within the past 3 weeks. These patients should seek immediate treatment to ensure they receive the best available treatment as quickly as possible. And, of course, getting a flu shot is an easy, effective way to prevent ‘the other virus’ from spoiling your Holiday season!

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