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5-Nov-14 10:00 AM  CST  

Misinformation Crowds Emergency Rooms 

Misinformation seems to be the latest ignition switch in the Ebola scare. Given that a day hasn’t gone by in the last 4 months without seeing at least a snippet of the virus, it is easy to see how its presence in the United States has caused wide spread panic and misinformation. The only problem is that misinformation is crowding our health system emergency rooms with patients who believe they may have contracted the virus.

            Physicians, and other medical staff have had to work overtime in calming unsubstantiated fears, many, as we stated, crowding an already over worked healthcare system. For example, an Ohio woman presented to her local emergency room believing she had Ebola, because her husband had worked in Dallas the week prior. Another woman in New Mexico came to her local emergency room and requested testing for Ebola, because she had been in West Africa two years ago. Yet another example of misinformation gone wrong involves an Alabama couple that had passed through an Atlanta airport, and insisted they had contracted the Ebola virus.

            These are just a few examples of the scores of stories coming out of US emergency rooms. Keeping this all in perspective, we should note that we are entering into the heart of cold and flu season. Many of symptoms associated with Ebola are shared with seasonal flu. So it is not hard to understand how patients might mistake flu symptoms for Ebola symptoms, but unless the patient had direct contact with a person who was known to have the Ebola virus, the chance the symptoms are related to Ebola are slim.

Typically, Ebola can be quickly ruled out by simply asking the patient if they have recently traveled to West Africa. The reality is that there have only been 4 documented cases of Ebola in the US. The chances that Ebola will reach widespread epidemic proportions in this country are improbably. The best preventive measure patients can take right now is to get a flu shot.





Goodbaum, B. “As Flu Season Starts, Ebola Fear May Fill Emergency Rooms” CBS News, 10/10/2014, referenced 31.October 2014

Millman, J. “Why ERs Are Bracing for an Ebola Epidemic” The Washington Post, 10/09/2014,,referenced, 31. October 2014

Tanner, L. “Fearing Ebola? Doctors Say Get a Flu Shot” The Associated Press. 10/30/2014,, referenced 31. October 2014

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Source: Sandy Andrews

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