Few things today might seem as terrifying as the prospect of dying from the Ebola virus.
The early symptoms of backache, chills, diarrhea, fatigue, fever, headache, nausea and vomiting sound unpleasant enough, though similar to the flu.
It’s the later symptoms — bleeding from the eyes, ears, nose, mouth and other orifices, eye swelling, skin pain and bloody rash — that get someone’s attention, as well as the fact that there is no known cure.
That is despite the fact that, according to Robert Pastor, vice president of patient care services at Southwest Health, “More people die of the influenza virus every year than have died from Ebola so far.”
If you’re a parent, you might be less concerned with the Ebola virus and more concerned with Enterovirus D68, which most strikes infants, children and teenagers. Almost 1,000 children have been infected with the virus nationwide, and eight deaths have been reported.
Pastor notes that Ebola has had “no reported cases in Wisconsin, and the risk of getting it is very low. The number one screening is whether somebody’s been coming from those countries” in Africa.
On the other hand, Southwest Health has had one enterovirus case, a 7-year-old child, who recovered.
“It’s been around for years, but we don’t usually see it to the extent we’ve seen it this year,” said Sandy Andrews, infection preventionist at Southwest Health. She said the enterovirus usually strikes in the summer and fall, but it has been more prevalent this year.
Mild symptoms of Enterovirus D68 include fever, running nose, sneezing, cough, and body and muscle aches. More severe symptoms may include wheezing and difficulty breathing.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an enterovirus test, but it took several weeks to be diagnosed, Andrews said. A new test takes a few days.
Both the enterovirus and Ebola are viruses, and neither has a cure nor antiviral medication. Andrews said enterovirus treatments are “symptomatic treatments — respiratory support and supportive measures.” People with more severe symptoms may be hospitalized.
The enterovirus generally diminishes in late fall.
As for Ebola, said Andrews, “We do have protocols in place if somebody was admitted to our facility.” She said the two tipoffs would be travel to Africa and symptoms common to Ebola. If both are in place, Andrews said the protocol is to
“isolate them and contain them,” after which a CDC rapid-response team would come to the hospital.
If a patient in a Wisconsin hospital were diagnosed with Ebola, the patient would be taken to one of four Wisconsin hospitals. Children would be taken to American Family Children’s Hospital in Madison or Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Wauwatosa. Adults would be taken to UW Hospital in Madison or Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee.
The fact that health care workers contracted Ebola from infected patients got attention.
“At that time we’d never had Ebola in the U.S. before,” said Andrews, and therefore hospitals didn’t have an Ebola-specific protocol. “The CDC is not clear how they contracted Ebola” — possibly through exposed skin or removing personal protective equipment.
Pastor said there are “four or five conference calls and webinars a day” on Ebola by the CDC and the World Health Organization. “The precautions hospitals should use, we can do,” he said, who added that an Ebola patient drill is scheduled for the near future.
Andrews said in case an Ebola patient was admitted, health care workers are now totally covered, and an observer watches a worker remove personal protective equipment.
Respiratory viruses are spread through an infected person’s saliva or nasal mucus. So is the flu, which has been reported in 20 Wisconsin hospitals, an order of magnitude more than the one or two hospitals usual this time of year.
“The one thing anybody can do to decrease the incidence of this is hand-washing — that’s the best thing for this and the flu and everything else out there,” said Andrews, who added people should avoid touching their eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
Andrews said people who feel sick should stay home from work or school. She also suggests getting a flu shot.