On Safety

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Ebola in America: No cause for panic

October 9, 2014

With news of the first patient being diagnosed with Ebola in the United States during the disease’s worst outbreak since its discovery, some anxiety is in the air. But there needn’t be.

Originating in Africa, Ebola is caused by an infection of a variety of different viruses that can lead to fever, stomach and muscle pain, vomiting, and unexplained bleeding or bruising. Half the people who contract it die, according to the World Health Organization, and there is no cure.

The vast majority of workers in this country are not going to be at risk of Ebola, according to OSHA. And although health care workers and their families are at the highest risk of contraction, measures can be taken to help prevent and control the disease.

Ebola does not spread through the air, water or food. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out, you can only contract it through a few, limited means:

  • Touching the body fluids of a person who is sick with or has died from Ebola
  • Touching contaminated objects, such as needles
  • Touching infected animals, their body fluids or their meat

Several guidance documents have been published by federal agencies and worldwide organizations alike, including OSHA, CDC and WHO.

Wearing protective gear, such as gowns and masks, and using proper infection control and sterilization measures can help control the spread of the disease in health care environments. These and other infection control protection recommendations must be “meticulously” followed by health care workers to ensure Ebola does not spread from patients, CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a recent blog post.

“I’m not going to promise that we can stop this at just one case, but I can tell you we have the advantage because the right steps are being taken, and I am therefore confident we will stop Ebola in its tracks here in the United States,” Frieden said.

The opinions expressed in "On Safety" do not necessarily reflect those of the National Safety Council or affiliated local Chapters.

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