Will My Child Get Ebola?

Published on 
October 16, 2014

Updated on October 20, 2014

For many months, the world has witnessed the Ebola virus spread and claim more than 4,400 lives in West African countries. On Oct. 8, the first confirmed adult Ebola patient identified in the United States died. The constant news coverage has heightened concern among parents who fear their children will become infected. Jill Hoffman, MD, a pediatric Infectious diseases specialist at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, discusses the facts about Ebola, how parents can help their children prevent further outbreak by teaching them good hygiene, and how CHLA is prepared to identify and treat suspected Ebola patients.

How is the Ebola virus transmitted from person to person?

Hoffman: “Ebola is spread by infected secretions from a patient – blood, tears and saliva. It has to be directly spread by contact with either a person who is sick or with their secretions, which may be spread to another person. It is important to understand that it is not spread in the air like influenza or tuberculosis, and it is only communicable when a patient has symptoms. Unlike some other infections which you can get from a person prior to them having symptoms, this is only spread by patients who are sick.”

Can a child get Ebola?

Hoffman: “Anybody can get Ebola. In fact, the index patient for this latest outbreak has been identified as a child in December of last year. We don’t know how that child became infected. Previous outbreaks suggest that children have a lower mortality rate. Adults may be more likely to get infected because they are more likely to be caretakers. That said, it is unknown at this time how many children have died in this latest outbreak.”

What advice can you give parents in dealing with their kids?

Hoffman: “Kids are a little problematic because their hygiene isn’t very good and they love to share everything with each other. Teach kids good hand washing with soap and water, and washing their hands as much as possible. Be aware if you have visitors from West African countries or people who have been in contact with a known or suspected patient with Ebola.”

What are the symptoms of Ebola?

Hoffman: “The symptoms of Ebola almost always include fever, malaise, headache, and gastrointestinal symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea, and in a worst-case scenario spontaneous bleeding from any bodily site. The incubation period is two to 21 days after you have had contact with a symptomatic person. Most people will present symptoms within 10 to 11 days of contact.”

What is the treatment for Ebola?

Hoffman: “There is no anti viral therapy or vaccine for Ebola. But it can be treated successfully with supportive care – IV fluids, blood products, nutrition.”

How has Children’s Hospital Los Angeles prepared to handle Ebola patients?

Hoffman: “Children’s Hospital Los Angeles has sent written information to all physicians, nurses, patient care services and the access center on how to identify patients as quickly as possible by asking about travel history to Africa in all patients or household contacts, upon entry to our health care system. In addition, we have ongoing training for screening protocols and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers in high risk areas such as the Emergency Department, Pediatric Intensive care unit, front desk staff, security and EVS. All patients with fever and/or other symptoms of Ebola and travel to West African countries of concern are to be isolated immediately and healthcare workers will use PPE per CDC guidelines while they are being evaluated as high or low risk (CDC guidelines based on exposure) as per the hospital epidemiologist and the hospital’s infection prevention and control department. If the patient has high risk exposure, specimens will be sent for specific testing for Ebola by Polymerase chain reaction and culture to the Los Angeles County Public Health lab and the CDC for confirmation."

"As far as we know, we have had only 1 patient with fever and travel history to West Africa. This patient was treated several weeks ago and was diagnosed with Malaria.”

What should parents do if they suspect their child has Ebola?

Hoffman: “First, they must answer the question ‘since the onset of symptoms, has my child traveled to West Africa or been in contact with someone who has traveled there within the past 21 days?’ If child has no travel to West Africa or contact with someone who traveled there, then your child does not have Ebola. If a person with travel or contact with someone who traveled has fever or symptoms with 21 days they should seek medical attention immediately and tell the health care provider at first contact of travel history.”

There is a belief that there will not be an Ebola outbreak in the U.S. What are your thoughts on this?

Hoffman: “The chance of an Ebola outbreak in our country is very low. Remember, you cannot get this from riding on a bus with somebody, or passing casually in a room with somebody. You have to have direct contact with infected secretions. The mortality rate in Africa is 50-70 percent because they lack the hospital facilities and medical infrastructure. It would be much lower here given the resources we have available.”

What else should parents be concerned about now that flu season is approaching?

Hoffman: “Many people in this country die of influenza every year and that is an illness we know how to prevent. Get a flu vaccine, which is recommended for everybody six months of age or older.”

What travel tips do you have for families that must travel to West Africa?

Hoffman: “The CDC recommends travel should be avoided to the region until further notice. The recommendation is in place to control the outbreak and prevent the disease from spreading further. Postponing travel will ensure the health of U.S. residents and allow countries where the outbreaks are prevalent to more effectively contain the disease.”

Please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for additional details.