You’ll be pleased to hear that I successfully traveled between the Cleveland airport and the Houston airport this week without panicking over the Ebola virus. As you know, Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person in the United States to die from the Ebola virus was diagnosed in Dallas, and Amber Joy Vinson, the nurse who ultimately contracted the virus from treating Duncan, recently traveled to Cleveland for a weekend visit with family, prior to being diagnosed.
The mainstream media in both areas have gone a little over-the-top with their live reports and sensationalized coverage. In fact, they’ve promoted so much fearfulness that several schools in the Cleveland area shut down because a teacher happened to be on the “infected” aircraft that Vinson had been on (albeit at a different time). Even if the teacher had kissed Vinson, he or she likely wouldn’t have contracted the virus—it would have been much too weak in Vinson’s system at the time.
It’s a good thing the TV reporters didn’t grab me in the airport terminal and ask me to describe all the precautions I’m taking to protect myself from Ebola. I would have shrugged and said something benign like, “I’m just washing my hands like I normally would.” The editors would have snipped my sound bite right off and onto the cutting room floor because it would lack the drama and fear tactics they’re looking for.
In truth, I’m more concerned about getting the influenza virus. That’s really why I’ve been so good about washing my hands. More Americans die from the seasonal flu and its complications than from Ebola. And the flu virus is much more contagious. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) can’t really provide hard data on how many adults die from flu-related causes, all the estimates I've heard exceed 10,000 people per year.
I highly recommend keeping tabs on Flu View, the weekly surveillance report from the CDC. It’s far better than watching the late night TV news.
And in the meantime, review the necessity of handwashing with your staff--clinical and non-clinical--not because you're concerned about Ebola, but because you're concerned about the far more common, more contagious flu virus. BTW: Find the CDC handwashing guidelines here.