The first case of Ebola on U.S. soil should be an eye-opener for meeting planners, especially those professionals managing international conferences. There is no reason to panic; however it is important to understand how Ebola manifests itself, and how it can be contracted.
Meeting planners are generally prepared for worst-case scenarios. We can plan our set-up, program, security and staffing to insure everything goes off without a hitch. How, as planners how do we prepare for a lethal virus that is much harder to detect and could affect your attendees? The good news; the risk of contracting the Ebola virus in the United States are slim to none. The bad news; there are many more nasty bugs out there that could more easily infiltrate your conference and sicken attendees.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shares that Ebola is a rare and deadly disease caused by infection with one of the Ebola virus strains. Ebola was first discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa. Since then, outbreaks have appeared sporadically in Africa, with one of the worst right now. Although unknown, it is believed that an animal is the host to the virus.
RISK OF EXPOSURE
All cases of human illness or death from Ebola have occurred in Africa, with the exception of several laboratory contamination cases: one in England and two in Russia. The first case of Ebola on U.S. soil was reported earlier this week in a gentleman traveling from Liberia. The risk of being exposed to the virus in the United States is extremely low.
Healthcare providers caring for Ebola patients and the family and friends in close contact with Ebola patients are at the highest risk of getting sick because they may come in contact with the blood or body fluids of sick patients. The virus can enter the body through broken skin or unprotected mucous membranes in, for example, the eyes, nose, or mouth.
SYMPTOMS AND ACTIONS
Diagnosing Ebola in a person who has been infected for only a few days is difficult, because the early symptoms, such as fever, are nonspecific to Ebola infection and are seen often in patients with more commonly occurring diseases.
When hosting an international conference, and people have traveled in from areas affected with Ebola it is key to send them to the emergency room when illness is detected. Especially if they had contact with the blood or body fluids of a person sick with Ebola, contact with objects that have been contaminated with the blood or body fluids of a person sick with Ebola, or contact with infected animals. They should be isolated and public health professionals notified. Your local public health officials will be able to provide you with a plan of action related to your attendees who may have come in contact with the person.
The good news is that Ebola is very hard to contract in sanitary environments. You should avoid contact with all bodily fluids, and any items that have come in contact with an infected person’s blood or body fluids. To see a list off all preventative measures visit the CDC website here.
There is no FDA-approved vaccine available for Ebola.
RESOURCE: Centers for Desease Control and Prevention
Photograph courtesy of Centers for Desease Control and Prevention