Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Infectious Disease Expert Cites Role For Psychiatrists in Efforts to Combat Ebola

Attendees at APA's Institute on Psychiatric Services in San Francisco on Friday were provided with an in-depth overview of the history, symptomatology, and recent outbreak of the Ebola virus, as well as information on how psychiatrists can play a role during the current period of international health concern.

“Fever is the predominate symptom seen with a person infected with Ebola,” said George Rutherford, M.D. (shown in photo), head of the Division of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the University of California, San Francisco, and guest speaker at the Ebola update session. Rutherford explained that symptoms associated with Ebola come in various phases beginning with fever, followed by abdominal-related symptoms, such as vomiting and diarrhea, and “then it can progress to more severe symptoms such as meningitis- and cephalitis-like symptoms and [finally] to uncontrolled bleeding. Symptoms usually appear between 20 and 21 days" after infection. As of October 27, said Rutherford, there were 13,703 cases of Ebola reported worldwide, with 2,791 occurring in the prior 21 days.

So far, the United States has had nine reported Ebola cases. Rutherford noted that amid current hysteria breaking out in the United States concerning Ebola, there is a very small chance that Americans who have not been to West Africa or taken care of patients with the Ebola virus will contract it. “What is important is the epidemic in West Africa, where we need to concentrate our resources,” stressed Rutherford. “Being prepared in the U.S. is prudent and appropriate, but what is more appropriate is to be concerned about West Africa… Because if don’t stop the epidemic in West Africa, it will definitely spread.”

During an interview with Psychiatric News, Rutherford stated that the CDC has put 300 medical professionals on the front lines in West Africa to help eradicate the spread of Ebola. He said that psychiatrists are needed as well, to deal with mental health consequences associated the virus, such as posttraumatic stress disorder and stigma, which many patients and families in West Africa are now dealing with. However, he emphasized, the mental health consequences associated with Ebola are not geographically restricted. “There is also this exaggerated stigma and hyperanxiety about casual exposure [to Ebola] in the US…particularly in hospitals,” he said. He advised session participants to reach out to their local hospitals to become a part of an Ebola preparation team—which are being formed in hospitals throughout the nation—to provide an adequate mental health resource for hospital workers who treat Ebola patients. “Mental health workers are definitely needed.”

To read more about the need for mental health services in places impacted by the Ebola epidemic, see the Psychiatric News article, "Response to Ebola Crisis Will Require Attention to MH Needs."

(Image: Vabren Watts/Psychiatric News)


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