Colds and flu

19 August 2014

Is it Ebola or is it flu?

Ebola has killed over 1 200 Africans this year. With the outbreak worsening, how do you know if you need to be worried or not?

Ebola is a highly deadly disease that kills up to 90% of those it infects, often within just days of symptoms beginning to show.

However, the initial symptoms of Ebola aren't all that uncommon. In fact, the disease's early stages mimic those of many other common diseases, including simple influenza. Fortunately, sufferers are only contagious in the later stages of the disease. 

This creates a problem as people begin to panic. Due to its ability to kill people in a quick, rather gruesome manner, Ebola is a disease that generates a lot of fear. As a result, outbreaks of the disease tend to bring about a large number of people fearing that they've been infected woth the disease, despite the fact that they've actually just got flu.

Read: Ebola health workers face hellish conditions

This isn't just disconcerting for the person feeling unwell, it can also spread fear amongst their communities and put undue pressure on health services when they're already under strain from the outbreak.

So, how can you tell? Should you be running to hospital or should you just stay in bed?

Firstly, it's virtually impossible for you to have Ebola if you haven't travelled to one of the infected regions in the past two weeks. If an infected person had become ill in South Africa, you would have had to have made contact with them when they were extremely unwell in order to catch the disease.

Read: South Africa steps up Ebola response

Flu, on other hand is very easy to pick up from people around you and is present across the globe and throughout the year, though it is more prevalent in winter. 

As symptoms begin to present themselves, they should be considered like any other illness. A fever is rarely anything to worry about, but if it's serious you should go to the hospital. Ebola is likely to hit you harder than a simple flu, so if you're struggling, get it checked out.

The more serious symptoms of Ebola, including the well-known haemorrhagic effects, only begin to show after several days, after which it is usually too late. Sufferers may begin to bleed from their orifices, though the internal bleeding is much more dangerous. About half of deaths occur from organ failure before they even reach this stage.    

Read more:
DA spokesman causes Ebola panic
Scientists racing to test Ebola drug on humans
Website publishes homeopathic Ebola cure

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Flu expert

Dr Heidi van Deventer completed her MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 2004 at the University of Stellenbosch.
She has additional training in ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) and PALS (Paediatric Advanced Life Support) as well as biostatistics and epidemiology.

Dr Van Deventer is currently working as a researcher at the Desmond Tutu Tuberculosis Centre at the University of Stellenbosch.

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