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Enemy Among Us: Infectious DIseases and you

Ebola has been a hot subject in the media lately. And for good reason. The infection is ravaging areas of west Africa, and has now been confirmed in the US. This disease deserves our utmost attention and respect. However, the likelihood of contracting this disease is far less than some other more common illnesses that can be just as devastating.

So let’s get the big dog out of the way…


According to the CDC, persons at risk include:
Recent travel to endemic areas.
Contact with bodily fluids of an infected person. Let’s explore this a little further. What exactly does ‘contact’ mean? Basically, you would have to, for example, put your hands in the feces, urine, and/or vomit of an infected person, and then inadvertently/intentionally put those hands near/in your face, mouth, or nasal passages. Going out in a limb here and saying that most people probably will not to do this. If you’re in healthcare, well, we touch icky stuff all the time….but not with our bare hands (I hope).
So, outside of being a healthcare worker, the chances of your coming into contact with the Ebola virus are pretty slim at the current time. So breathe and try to be calm…

But here’s what I, and many of my colleagues REALLY worry about….

In the cooler/colder months, we are in closer proximity to one another. We spend more time indoors. Recent weather trends mean that our winters are not as cold as they were in past years. (Remember when it used to snow every winter? That was a good thing for more reasons than snow angels and snowball fights)

The flu. Influenza is responsible for 12,337 hospitalizations, (80,724 total cases) and upwards of 49,000 deaths in 2013 in the US, and 3-5 million cases worldwide resulting in approximately 500,000 deaths. It is if more serious consequence to those in the extremes of age, that being children and the elderly. Not to be neglected, those with chronic conditions, (diabetes, for example) are also affected more severely. This illness is spread via droplet contact (via coughing and/or sneezing).

How to protect yourself: frequent hand washing, disinfecting hard surfaces regularly, covering your cough/sneeze, immunization, avoiding close contact (kissing, hugging, sharing cups/eating utensils) with infected persons(when possible). Stay at home if you are sick.

Recent outbreak of Enterovirus 68 has been in the news recently. Enterovirus is a respiratory illness, previously responsible for mild to moderate symptoms. However, this year, the illness is more serious, sending hundreds to ERs around the country and is reported to have caused at least one death. This disease is spread by droplet contact route. In general, those with pre-existing lung illnesses (asthma, COPD, bronchitis) are at greatest risk, along with the extremes of age.

How to protect yourself: see Influenza.

Avian flu/H1N1.
How to protect yourself: see Influenza.

Approximately 9,500 new cases were diagnosed in 2013. TB is spread through the air via coughing, sneezing, talking, and spitting.

How to prevent: avoiding sick contacts, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.

Remember when HIV was the new kid on the block and scared the living day lights out of everybody? Guess what? It’s still scary. The good news is that with the advent of more sophisticated anti-viral drug regimens, people infected are living longer, more productive lives. The bad news? Despite vigorous efforts at educating the public regarding safer-sex techniques, HIV infections continue to occur. Yearly in the US, there are about 50,000 new infections.

How to protect yourself: safer sex techniques, post exposure prophylaxis

Nearly eradicated, now enjoying a resurgence due in part to lack of immunization.




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