Ebola is hitting the United States at probably the worst time: flu season. Now, thousands of people with symptoms of the flu will be rushing to the hospital–in fear they have Ebola. While it’s not a bad thing to be mindful of the symptoms of what has turned out to be a widespread epidemic, flooding hospitals with panic-fueled patients is a drain on everyone’s money and resources.
Yes, there are cases of Ebola in the United States, and yes, it is possible and even probable there will be more, but as it stands, the chances of getting the flu are still greater.
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Thankfully, there is a vaccine for the flu, and the recent Ebola panic is just another reason to make sure you get your flu vaccine. While it won’t definitely protect you from getting sick with H1N1, it increases your chances and therefore decreases the chance you’ll rush into the emergency room worried you have Ebola.
The differences between Ebola and the flu
It’s true; initial symptoms of Ebola are very similar to those associated with the flu. Sore throat, cough and fever are standard for both within the first 5 days. Ebola, however, because it is attacking every system in the body, starts to accrue many other symptoms that the flu does not. USA Today detailed the following symptom timeline for Ebola versus the flu:
- Within the first 5 days: Both Ebola and the flu share symptoms of cough, fatigue and sore throat; however, Ebola can also present at this time with a rash and/or chest pain.
- After 8 to 12 days: Both Ebola and the flu share symptoms of cough, fatigue, sore throat, headache, and fever; however, only Ebola can also present with bloodshot eyes, high (dangerous) fever, blood in the stool, loss of appetite, and chest pain. Also, symptoms of the flu will start to diminish at this time while symptoms of Ebola will worsen.
- After 10 days: Individuals with the flu will have seen symptoms resolve, while individuals with Ebola will see symptoms continue to worsen and may experience shortness of breath, seizures, confusion, and internal bleeding.
Should I be checked for Ebola if I have a fever?
Ebola is no joke, and because of the highly contagious nature of this virus, anyone who thinks they have contracted it should seek immediate medical attention. If you think you might just be a Nervous Nelly, there are some questions you can ask yourself to determine if your Ebola concerns are legitimate.
- Have you had your flu shot? (Are you protected against other common ailments?)
- Have you come in contact with anyone traveling internationally?
- Do you work in a job where you could be exposed to infectious materials or individuals traveling from areas with Ebola?
- Have there been any Ebola cases reported in your town?
- Have you visited a hospital or other facility where you could have come in contact with the virus?
If you can honestly answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions, then immediate care isn’t unreasonable, just keep in mind that as of right now, you’re still more likely to come down with the flu.
“I don’t think there’s any question, if you ask 100 infectious disease experts or epidemiologists, what 100 percent of them would say. Influenza is more of a threat to the average American, if by threat you mean ‘which is more likely to kill you or make you sick any time in the next year,’” Dr. Art Reingold, the head of epidemiology at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, told HuffPost. “One of the issues is that if people do get the flu vaccine and reduce their risk of flu, then we’ll have fewer people coming to the doctor or the emergency room with a febrile illness, where there might be a suspicion about it being Ebola or something else, ” Reingold said. “We would like people to reduce their chances of getting the flu for all kinds of reasons, but that would be one of them.”
While it’s just considered a good health habit to make sure you get your flu shot annually, this year getting your flu shot can also provide you with some peace of mind when it comes to Ebola.