The Flu vs. Ebola: You’ll Be Surprised
The Ebola virus was first discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo, hence its name. A deadly and rare disease generally affecting people and nonhuman primates, it is spread through the bodily fluids of a person who has it or has died from it. The news media have portrayed the Ebola virus as an incredibly deadly disease, killing thousands of people in Africa. When the latest major outbreak occurred, in 2014, shrill headlines sounded the alarm about the Ebola “epidemic,” scaring people around the world. That September, the United States saw its first fatal case of Ebola when a US resident from Liberia died in Dallas, Texas. Since then, however, Ebola has not killed anyone in the US, and there have been no new cases domestically since 2014. And the doom-laden headlines? The numbers, in fact, are considerably lower for fatalities than might be expected. In all, approximately 1,600 people have died from Ebola in Africa, with the highest rates found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in south-central Africa.
Let’s compare Ebola to the influenza virus, commonly called the flu.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), influenza is an acute respiratory illness caused by a viral infection. It is spread, similarly to Ebola, through contact with the bodily fluids of persons who have it. Typical symptoms of the flu include abrupt onset of fever and respiratory symptoms such as cough, sore throat, and runny nose, as well as systemic symptoms such as headache, muscle aches, and tiredness. The severity of the flu can range from asymptomatic sickness to viral pneumonia and death. Acute symptoms generally last two to seven days, although general malaise and cough may continue for two weeks or longer.
In 2012, the CDC reported 12,000 fatalities in the US related to the flu. The year 2013 was worse, with more than 56,000 fatalities from flu-like symptoms. And this past year, 2018, saw more than 79,000 flu-related deaths (96 percent of which were Silver Sagers!) and close to a million hospitalizations for influenza. And this isn’t only in the US. The CDC, along with Global Health Partners, estimates that between 290,000 and 646,000 people worldwide die each year from flu-like illnesses.
We don’t know how this coming year’s flu season will look, but we do know how you can help protect yourself.
Get the flu shot. Even if you don’t think the vaccine will completely protect against this year’s strain, it is still wiser to get it than not. If you get the flu, you’re more likely to have a milder infection and shorter duration of the flu with the vaccine. The nasal vaccine is not recommended for those over the age of 65, however.
Wash your hands regularly. The best defense is a great offense. Clean your hands with warm water and soap several times throughout the day, especially if traveling.
Don’t touch things in public places. Outside your home, avoid contact with door handles, elevator buttons, escalator handles, or anything that large numbers of other people have been touching. How? Use your elbow or a handkerchief or scarf during the winter months to flush toilets, open doors, and the like. Or use baby wipes. We keep them in a small Ziploc bag and use them all the time!
Consider antiviral medication. If you think you’ve been exposed, ask your doctor for Tamiflu or Xofluza. If taken within 48 hours of exposure, it can lessen your symptoms if you opted not to get the flu shot.
Stay healthy. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and a consistent sleep schedule can help you boost your immunity and ward of the flu. Eat sensibly and drink alcohol in moderation but stay hydrated with water throughout the flu season.
As always, check with your doctor if you’re not feeling well. My father always said, “Better safe than sorry” when it comes to your health. Ebola may be a serious and deadly disease, but you’re far more likely to get influenza than Ebola. So make sure you get the vaccine and protect yourself!
Photo credits: livescience.com and the CDC
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