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Doctors Focus On Threats Of Ebola, Flu In Norwalk Panel Discussion

Drs. Robert Weiss, Jeanne Marconi and Michael Schwartz discuss Ebola and other common diseases during a round table talk Tuesday evening in Norwalk.
Drs. Robert Weiss, Jeanne Marconi and Michael Schwartz discuss Ebola and other common diseases during a round table talk Tuesday evening in Norwalk. Photo Credit: Casey Donahue

NORWALK, Conn. – A panel of doctors talked about the fears of Ebola as well as other more common diseases that can spread this time of year, such as flu and the common cold, during a round-table discussion in Norwalk on Tuesday.

The discussion was held at the Center for Advanced Pediatrics and was hosted by Gillian Neff of News 12. The panel was made up of Dr. Jeanne Marconi, a pediatrician with the Center for Advanced Pediatrics in Norwalk; Dr. Robert Weiss, an ear, nose and throat specialist with the Connecticut Center for Advanced ENT Care in Norwalk, and Dr. Michael Schwartz, an internal medicine specialist with Soundview Medical Associates in Norwalk.

They discussed what distinguishes Ebola from common diseases such as cold and flu, and how people can protect themselves.

“Certainly any illness that has a fever, we’re going to have to ask a few extra questions,” Weiss said.

He said that doctors who suspect Ebola will ask whether a patient has had any contact with people from West Africa or if they are health-care professionals or lab technicians who may have come into contact with infected material. ”That’s going to be the first stage. Like any good encounter with a patient, the doctor will want to get a good history.”

Ebola does differ from other viruses when it comes to symptoms.

“One of the differences between flu and Ebola is that Ebola doesn’t have a cough,” Marconi said. Among the symptoms of Ebola are fever, diarrhea, vomiting, and bleeding. She also said that people have to be aware of how they can catch the disease. Ebola is not airborne, and is primarily contracted by coming into contact with bodily fluids, as well as eating or touching meat of an animal infected with the disease, she said.

“One of the things about Ebola that the general population has to understand is, you hear in the media that it’s really contagious only after the symptoms occur, and that’s actually true,” said Schwartz. He said it has to do with how much virus is in the person’s system.

For the first couple of days after symptoms occur, there’s not that much virus in their system, he said. Around days three, four and five, it starts to peak, maxing out around days six and seven, he said.

“For a lot of people who think they were exposed, because somebody may have been on an airplane, may have had the disease, even if they had some early symptoms, it’s even difficult to detect when we take blood of these patients, because they don’t have enough virus in them. And if they don’t have enough virus in them to begin with, then it’s even harder to spread that virus through oral and fecal routes,” Schwartz said.

The doctors said that although Ebola is rare, they have started to take extra precautions. Weiss said that in his office they make sure everyone has sanitized their hands in front of staff, and they have taken extra steps to sanitize rooms more than usual.

Marconi said at the Center for Advanced Pediatrics they have a series of questions about Ebola before patients walk through the door to make sure they don’t have the disease.

The doctors said that people need to make sure they’re taking care of their immune system, by keeping hydrated, eating healthy, exercising, taking vitamin D, keeping saline in the house and using hand sanitizer. Marconi said that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that everyone get a flu shot this year.

“I think we have to put everything in perspective in terms of what’s common and what’s not. Ebola is still exceedingly uncommon, as we have to be aware of it, but the flu is much more common and it kills a lot more people than Ebola ever will. So we have to keep that in mind too,” Weiss said.

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