The Ebola Outbreak: Tips to Prevent Future Health Epidemics

Tips to prevent health epidemics and protect your community

How does a  disease go from being a dormant threat to a serious and deadly health epidemic? The disease is highly contagious and is likely to spread seamlessly through contact or indirect contact from person to person.

It’s important to look back on what health epidemics have occurred and come up with what healthy habits you can employ daily to thwart deadly outbreaks in the future.

What exactly classifies as a health epidemic, pandemic or endemic?

A health epidemic, by definition, is  the widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a given place, spreading rapidly among individuals in a given area or population at the same time.

Diseases that can be transmitted through the air by coughing and breathing are especially concerning because they spread quickly and easily.

This happens with influenza, also known as the flu, annually. Influenza in fact has led to pandemics, which are global health epidemics.

An endemic is  an infection within a geographic location that exists perpetually, such as dengue fever.

The 2014 Ebola epidemic

The most widespread epidemic of the Ebola virus disease occurred in 2014 in West Africa. There were more than 28,600 total cases of Ebola, 11,300 of which were deadly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

At the national level, the Ebola virus dominated news headlines popped up across the country after four cases were identified, striking fear into just about anyone boarding a plane.

Ebola is undeniably contagious between persons, but it is just one of many highly contagious deadly diseases that you should be aware has led to a health epidemic.

The Spanish Flu of 1918

The Influenza pandemic occurred in three waves in the United States throughout 1918 and 1919, leading to an estimated 50 million deaths. Approximately 20% to 40% of the worldwide population became ill, and nearly 675,000 people died in the U.S. alone.

Illness from the 1918 flu pandemic, came on quickly. Some people felt fine in the morning but passed away by nightfall.

Influenza is a leading cause of death in Hispanics

There have been four major flu pandemics since the Spanish Flu of 1918, and in 2009 and 2010, the flu was one of the top 10 leading causes of death for Hispanics, according to the CDC.

While most flu activity occurs from October to May in the United States, flu viruses are detected globally year-round.

Groups including older people and young children are high risk for serious complications from the flu and other health epidemics.

Why you should get the Flu Shot

Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every season. This recommendation for everyone to get the flu shot has been in place since February 24, 2010 when CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted for “universal” flu vaccination in the U.S. to broaden the scope of protection against the flu to more people.

Here are 7 healthy habits to prevent future health epidemics

Learn, practice, and teach healthy habits that keep infectious diseases like the flu or Ebola from spreading, according to the CDC.

  • Handle and prepare food safely
  • Avoid sharing personal items
  • Avoid touching wild animals
  • Wash your hands frequently
  • Clean and disinfect commonly used surfaces
  • Cough and  sneeze into a tissue or your sleeve
  1. Stay home when sick

“We may, at some point, have a flu epidemic that is especially severe and cause high mortality and morbidity which means many hospitalizations.  We haven’t had such an epidemic since the Spanish flu at the turn of the 20th century, however most experts agree this is one of their biggest fears,” says saludmóvil® founder Dr. Joseph Mosquera.

Watch Dr. Mosquera talk about the Ebola virus in the summer of 2014 in Spanish on Telemundo 47’s morning show here.

CDC is the leading resource for all things infectious disease

It may be comforting to know the CDC is constantly working to protect people living in the US from infectious diseases via different platforms.

CDC uses multiple platforms and partnerships to protect Americans from diseases that begin overseas. Examples include Global Disease Detection Centers (GDD), Field Epidemiology Training Programs (FETP) and other disease-specific programs.

These standards in public health have been met with positive response and have been adopted by other nations.

The CDC is working by broadening the health security net by developing technical skills, increasing laboratories, and connecting information systems to improve decision-making and prevent, detect, and responding to diseases as efficiently as possible. Infectious disease outbreaks are constantly updated and published on the CDC website.

For any further questions on Ebola, please visit the CDC Ebola Virus page for the most up to date information.

Here are 2 other useful resources that offer real-time, quality information on health epidemics

  1. WHO:The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information via their Department of Pandemic and Epidemic Diseases (PED) develops strategies, initiatives, and mechanisms to address priority emerging and re-emerging epidemic diseases, thereby reducing their impact on affected populations and limiting their international spread.
  2. Health Map: As well, Health map has a very use-friendly interface that allows you to visually see on a map based on your current location infectious disease outbreaks near you.

“It’s very important to know there are many highly contagious and infectious diseases in the world today, not just Ebola. One of the best ways to protect yourself and prevent these diseases from ever becoming health epidemics in this country is learning how to keep them from spreading,” explains Dr. Mosquera.

Just this month, Sierra Leone officially marked the end of its recent flare-up of Ebola. Since March 17th, 42 days have  passed since the last person confirmed to have Ebola tested negative for a second time, according to the World Health Organization.

With the help of the Centers for Disease Control and state health departments, it is unlikely an epidemic in the U.S. will happen in the near future, but it is important to always be vigilant.