Rapid viral outbreaks and why you shouldn’t feel helpless

No one likes to hear the word outbreak no matter if it’s referring to widespread cases of the flu virus or something like Ebola in a faraway country.

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No matter the source or location, education and awareness are the first steps in helping to contain and gain back control over viral outbreaks, said Aaron Block, MD, a family physician with Franklin Family Practice.

A viral outbreak occurs when there is an increased concentration of a viral infection during a specific period of time. One of the most recent examples that was on a global level was in 2014 when the Ebola virus outbreak had a devastating impact in multiple countries in West Africa.

“It became an outbreak because there was so much transmission of infection that it was overwhelming to deliver healthcare and to intervene with the spread,” said Dr. Block, who practices with Premier Physician Network.

Outbreaks, however, do not have to involve deadly viruses such as Ebola and aren’t just relegated to countries where healthcare is not as strong. Outbreaks occur in America when common viral infections such as the flu or even what we know as the stomach bug reach a certain number of cases or become widespread.

Outbreaks are first reported on a local level with the help of physicians who begin seeing trends in their patient base and take steps to report to health care agencies what is taking place.

“If a clinician has a large group of patients coming in with very similar symptoms, such as diarrhea and abdominal pain they may call the health department and they may decide to post a notice about a potential outbreak of a virus causing gastroenteritis,” he said.

Outbreaks can be a source of anxiety since they usually spread rapidly and create a sense of helplessness among those who are living in the infected regions. Dr. Block said individuals shouldn’t assume they have no control over an outbreak. Understanding a few important facts can help reduce someone’s risk of being exposed to a certain virus and also go a long way in containing its spread.

Know where to go: Get your information about a current outbreak from reliable sources. Dr. Block encourages individuals to reference CDC.gov, the official website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This site as well as any other that is created or linked with a government agency is well vetted. Be cautious of any site that is not linked to an official organization, and double check information that is shared on social media.

Know what to do: You play a role in reducing the spread of viral outbreaks. Most viral outbreaks are spread through contact so be mindful of washing your hands well and using hand sanitizer when water and soap are not available. Viruses also can spread through droplets making it important to sneeze away from individuals and preferably by covering your nose and mouth with the inside of your elbow.

Know the sources: Viruses can live and spread through unsuspected sources such as improperly prepared or improperly stored foods. Viruses can also be spread through contact with body fluids including through sexual contact or needle sharing.

Know when to check: Education about viral outbreaks shouldn't just take place when the news reports it is happening. Be diligent to check possible outbreaks with the CDC when plans call for international travel. Be mindful to check not only the country of destination, but also any countries through which airlines may stop or require a layover.

For more information on viral outbreaks or to find a Premier Physician Network physician near you, go online to www.PremierPhysicianNet.com.

Premier Physician Network is one of the largest groups of pediatrics, family medicine, internal medicine, and urgent care practices in southwest Ohio. For more information, go online to www.premierphysiciannet.com.

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