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You, Your Dentist, and Ebola

October 22, 2014

First – The Facts: The Ebola virus is spread through direct contact only!That is, it has to be transmitted through broken skin or a mucous membrane by blood or body fluids (urine, feces, saliva, vomit or semen) from a person who is sick with it, or by an object (like needles) that have been contaminated. References to Ebola mutating to airborne transmission come from a 2012 study involving a contamination of monkeys from pigs in an adjoining cage and surface cross contamination was the suspected real cause. Also, although Ebola mutates at a high rate, in studies of viruses for over 100 years “we’ve never seen a human virus change its mode of transmission.”

Second – Transmission:  Fluids from those infected must be transmitted to a new individual before the first dies, or the virus can’t survive.  The CDC reflects an incubation time of 2-21 days, however, the World Health Organization (WHO) extends the amount of time a patient could be contagious to almost 42 days, because approximately 12% of those infected may show symptoms beyond the initial 21 days. Testing for a fever while traveling though the airport is like trying to win the lottery, unless you hit it just right, you’ll miss detecting an Ebola carrier. This screening is more for us, the public, than it is to prevent the spread of the disease! Going Airborne for Ebola means catching a ride on an airliner and introducing and distributing itself into a new territory or country.  Efforts to isolate it have already been severely compromised by our government’s slow or lack of proper response. Nigeria stopped its Ebola outbreak cold and it’s a 3rd world country! Their most recent case was on September 5th according to the WHO because they used WHO’s guidelines for strict infectious controls and responded quickly keeping those infected in local, isolation treatment centers… and using appropriate protective equipment.  They also ran intensive education and awareness programs.  Shortly thereafter our CDC stated that there was only about a 10% chance of Ebola arriving in the US. Thomas Duncan was identified as our first case… the next day!

Third – Prevention: The symptoms of Ebola are similar to the flu. Fever, severe headache, muscle pain, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal (stomach) pain and unexplained hemorrhaging (bleeding or bruising).  Most flu cases seen this winter will probably start out as heightened fear of having Ebola.  Dentists and their staff will should require anyone with these symptoms to “stay at home” but if symptoms persist, see their medical doctor as a safety precaution for the patient,  their staff, and the community. In addition, our office will require anyone who’s traveled from Africa to wait 6 weeks (instead of the 21 days recommended by the CDC) before being seen for treatment. Strict guidelines are followed for recommended gowns, masks, gloves and face protection and proper disposing of contaminated materials. If a patient shows signs of a possible Ebola infection, the local health authorities must be notified immediately.

All that said the potential for encountering an individual with Ebola is REMOTE. It is important for all of us to maintain a vigilant approach for preventing it’s spreading into our community. As your dentists, we often are the first line of detection and defense!

Dr. Gregory Hurt D.D.S

Posted in Articles by San Marcos Dental Center