Mainly reported in the countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, the arrival of Ebola haemorrhagic fever to the United States is making people feel a little uneasy and a bit scared. While this disease may be perceived as new, the Ebola virus has been around for some 30-40 years. According to infectious disease experts, the virus is not spreading any differently today than it has in previous outbreaks with the average American considered to remain to at low risk for infection (see The Most Destructive Myths About Ebola Virus, Debunked by Anna Almendrala of the Huffington Post).
As outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Ebola is spread through direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes in, for example, the eyes, nose, or mouth) with blood or body fluids (including but not limited to urine, saliva, sweat, feces, vomit, breast milk, and semen) of a person who is sick with Ebola. The World Health Organization (WHO) concurs that Ebola is not an airborne virus and cannot be spread like the common cold or flu. Humans are not considered infectious until symptoms develop which typically manifest 2 to 21 days after infection. Initial symptoms include sudden onset of fever (>38.6°C or 101.5°F), muscle pain, severe headache and sore throat. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and, in some cases, both internal and external bleeding (e.g. oozing from the gums, blood in the stools).
So, what is the connection of Ebola to Audiology? As healthcare workers, audiologists must control the potential spread of disease in patient-care environments by adhering to standard precautions when caring for patients, regardless of their presumed diagnosis. This includes basic hand hygiene procedures and the use of appropriate personal barriers (i.e. gloves, masks, gowns) when performing procedures that may potentially expose the clinician directly or indirectly to blood, ear drainage, mucous, cerumen, saliva, or any other potentially infectious substance, take necessary precautions. For a quick refresher on infection control basics, check out my previous blog posts Five Key Points of Infection Control, Wash Your Hands!, and Get Your Audiology Practice Under Control.