Ebola is the latest pandemic to scare the living daylights out of everyone, literally! It has caused so much panic, that affected areas such as Nigeria and Sierra Leone have been quarantined by the world; no international flights allowed in-or-out of these places. But it may be too late. Ebola has already claimed victims in Spain and Saudi Arabia. And cases are being monitored in the U.S. To date, 1,069 people have been killed by the Ebola in West Africa.
So what is Ebola?
The disease first appeared in 1976 with two simultaneous outbreaks in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The outbreak in the Congo was situated near the Ebola river, where the disease gets its name. The scientific name is: Genus Ebolavirus, and it has 5 distinct species: Bundibugyo ebolavirus (BDBV), Zaire ebolavirus (EBOV), Reston ebolavirus (RESTV), Sudan ebolavirus (SUDV), and Tai Forest ebolavirus (TAFV). The RESTV and TAFV versions have yet to be associated with any deaths.
How does Ebola spread?
Ebola was introduced into human beings through close contact with the organs, bodily fluids, blood and secretions of infected animals – namely gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, chimps, forest antelopes and porcupines that were either ill or found dead from Ebola.
Humans spread the virus to other people via direct contact – through mucous membranes or broken skin, blood, secretions, organs, and other bodily fluids of infected people, or indirect contact with environments contaminated with those fluids. The incubation period – or time from infection to symptoms can be anywhere from 2 to 21 days.
Patient Zero, from the latest outbreak of the pandemic, is believed to be a 2-year-old boy from the Gueckedou region of Guinea in December 6, 2013. From this boy, Ebola spread to other members of his village. This area is very close to the borders of Liberia and Sierra Leone, this is what allowed the disease to spread beyond borders so quickly.
My first thought was empathy for Patient Zero. As a mother I couldn’t imagine my child suffering in this way. My second thought was how best to protect my child from this outbreak, especially since he has to go to school each day.
My child is not old enough to defend himself against germs. He has no concept of illness, outbreak or contamination. He, like other elementary age kids, will likely allow other kids to cough or breath in his face, eat off his cookie, and drink from his milk.
How can I possibly keep my child safe from other people – short of sending him to school in a hazmat suit?
As of today, there is no cure for Ebola, although the U.S. and other Western countries do seem to have some type of experimental medication. Given that the potential cure is not yet an official “cure,” you’re best to bet on the prevention rather than intervention.
How do you prevent your child from contracting Ebola?
The CDC has some very practical advice for people traveling to places where the Ebola infection persists. These tips include avoiding contact with blood or bodily fluids, do not handle items that have come into contact with an infected person, avoid hospitals where Ebola patients are being treated, and after returning home monitor your health for at least 21 days.
These tips aren’t as realistic to children due to the nature of how children interact with each other, and their general ignorance toward such things. But there are some tips that we, as parents, can employ to lessen the likelihood of our children contracting Ebola.
1) Stay informed about new Ebola cases. The WHO updates the outbreak distribution map, and national and local news will also inform the public of any new Ebola cases.
2) Look out for Ebola symptoms. Symptoms may first appear like a common cough or flu, but sufferers will get worse with Ebola instead of better. The signs and symptoms of Ebola are fever, intense weakness and muscle pain, headache and sore throat. These initial symptoms are followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, impaired liver and kidney function, and in some cases internal and external bleeding.
3) Teachers and other school administration should be on the lookout for sick children. The slightest sniffle or signs of illness should be cause for going home. Some kids will have symptoms from allergies, that are not contagious. But they should provide a doctor’s note proving that their current symptoms are allergy-related.
4) Parents need to keep their kids home when sick. If the sickness lasts more than 1-2 days, put your child on home-study.
5) Teachers should spray down the class daily with disinfectant. Spray all desks, tables, counters, chairs, door knobs, and sports equipment. Schools have limited budget, so volunteer to keep your child’s class supplied with disinfectant spray.
6) Educate kids about the dangers of germs; there is even a game that may make this lesson fun! Don’t make them germophobes, but let them understand that “germs” are like “bugs” that can be yucky. Teach them to wash their hands before they eat, and keep their hands away from their mouth, nose and eyes. Don’t drink or eat off anyone else, or allow others to drink or eat off you. Pay attention to kids that appear sick – coughing and running nose – and stay out of their faces.
7) Keep hand sanitizer around. Keep some in your child’s backpack for him to use before lunch, and periodically throughout the day. Keep some in your car and purse, and allow your child to sanitize his hands at the end of his school day.
8) Follow the same rules. Make sure we are washing our hands, especially at the end of a work or shopping day. During the course of a day, adults touch door handles, shopping carts, desk, keyboards, etc. Any of these surfaces could be contaminated.
The point of this article is not to make you or your child paranoid. The chance your child will become infected with Ebola is slim in the Western world, but it is still possible. Your best defense is to remain informed. Employ education and a common sense approach to health and safety, and you can lessen the risk of your child’s exposure to Ebola.