The Ebola virus continues to rage now in five West African countries. The death toll is close to 2,000 people, but that number could grow exponentially. Thomas Frieden, the head of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), believes there could be 20,000 infections soon.
Frieden feels we are losing the best opportunity to contain the deadly virus. The nature of Ebola is that every day more people are infected, and it becomes more difficult to trace contacts and contain the epidemic. If you think it’s difficult to control today, just wait until next week!
The United States has infrastructure that makes it unlikely we will ever see more that a very rare Ebola patient on American soil.
Everyone is talking about monoclonal antibody serum, high tech ICUs and the Center for Disease Control’s Level 1 response – all the excitement and technology that Hollywood glorifies in thrilling movies like “The Hot Zone.”
Yet it isn’t the fancy space suits that protect us. This may come as a surprise to you, but it’s indoor plumbing and Lysol keeping us out of harm’s way.
Think about it for a minute. The fluids from an Ebola patient are the problem. They are highly contaminated with the Ebola virus – predominately diarrhea, vomit and blood. If a nation doesn’t have indoor plumbing, effective clean-up is almost impossible.
Think about the last time you had gastroenteritis (commonly known as the stomach flu). That often causes profuse nausea and vomiting, but you used the toilet and flushed it away.
If you missed a little, you likely cleaned it up with paper towels, antiseptic wipes, bagged or flushed everything, then sprayed plenty of Lysol. And you probably washed your hands multiple times throughout the whole procedure.
The end result? There wasn’t infectious fluid lying around for another person to come into contact with.
Ebola isn’t a very hardy virus. It is easily killed with routine cleanup.
We don’t have Ebola epidemics here in the U.S. because our public health system is designed to keep us clean and sanitary. We’ve been trained since childhood to wash our hands with plenty of soap and water. Hand sanitizers are everywhere you look and disinfectant wipes are now situated next to the grocery carts to wipe the handles.
We wash our clothes in laundry detergent. We have residual chlorine activity (which kills germs) in the water we use to wash our cars.
There are layers of protection that we don’t even think about that surround us every minute.
But for nations in Africa and other places that don’t have the same infrastructure and high regard for sanitation, the medical community needs to devote its energy to developing a vaccine.
In the meantime, no one’s energy should be spent worrying that Ebola could sweep our nation.
Here’s to indoor plumbing!
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.
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