A survey released last week by Harris Poll/Health Day found that 55 percent of Americans view Ebola as some level of a health threat to the U.S.
But Louisvillians, like every other person living in the U.S., don’t have much to worry about, said Dr. Boris Beckert, family physician and medical director for JenCare Neighborhood Medical Centers in Louisville.
“Ebola is a very dangerous virus but the amount of Ebola that’s around, especially in the United States, is very low,” Beckert said.
The flu is what Louisvillians need to worry about, Beckert said.
He said it’s “a much more prevalent virus and has the potential to do a lot more harm over the entire population.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year, on average, 5 percent to 20 percent of the U.S. population will get the influenza virus.
More than 200,000 people will be hospitalized from seasonal- flu related complications, according to the CDC.
Between 1976 and 2006, annual deaths in the U.S. related to the flu were as low as about 3,000 and as high as about 49,000, according to the CDC.
So far, only two people have been diagnosed with Ebola in the US. Thomas Duncan, the Liberian man who flew to Dallas to be with his family, died Oct. 8.
“The early symptoms of Ebola can be a little bit confusing, but you have to remember that Ebola is transmitted quite differently from the flu. The flu is transmitted through droplet so, anytime someone around you is coughing or sneezing you’re likely to pick that up,” he said.
Typically, people get influenza one or two days after being exposed. People who have the flu can be infectious before they display symptoms, and the infectiousness can last three to five days after the symptoms go away, Beckert said
Ebola is transmitted through bodily fluids from someone who has it, Beckert said.
“I think the likelihood is much, much lower that you’re going to worry about people getting Ebola than influenza,” Beckert said.
Three-quarters of respondents to the survey are more concerned about catching the flu than Ebola. Dr. Beckert said people tend to become sick with the cold or flu in the fall and winter and that it can be tricky to differentiate between the two.
While the two are both caused by viruses and share similar symptoms, the flu has a more rapid and sudden onset. Children under 2, adults over the age of 65 and people with chronic health conditions are at greater risk for developing complications brought on by the influenza virus.
“Fever, body aches, headaches, extreme fatigue and dry cough,” Beckert said. “Conversely, usually a cold will have a slower onset. People will have a milder set of symptoms, more of the nasal congestion and more of a productive cough. You know you have the flu if you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck.”
Beckert said the best way to prevent catching the influenza virus is to get a flu shot and wash your hands.