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Milwaukee Medical Director Answers Questions about Ebola

Paul Kane, getty images

Dr. Geoffrey Swain says, for the most part, people here are worrying needlessly.

What is the risk of Ebola, close to home?

“The risk for exposure to Ebola in the United States is incredibly low, and we don't need to have a travel ban in order to keep that risk low. The fact of the matter is that Ebola, although a highly deadly disease if you get it, turns out to be difficult to contract. Ebola is spread only only through close, direct contract - not through the air, and only by people who have symptoms of Ebola. It's mainly spread through body fluids like diarrhea or vomit," Swain says.

The odds of Milwaukee confronting a case depends in large part, on how slowly or quickly the world can contain the outbreak at its source - in western Africa. Swain says the longer Ebola spreads there, the more likely other parts of the world will also experience cases.

As the flu season approaches, might some people panic over symptoms?

"One thing that will happen a little bit differently this year, is that health care providers, when they see a patient with viral symptoms - fever, headache, muscle aches, fatigue - and that could be anything from a cold or flu to Ebola or malaria or any number of other things, doctors and nurses and other clinicians will be asking patients very carefully about their travel history. So if you have someone who has with viral symptoms, but they have never been to West Africa, they don't have Ebola.

"On the other hand, it turns out that they've had a recent travel history to one of these countries, now we'll be concerned about that person and we'll be putting a lot of careful precautions into place and testing them. Still, the odds are, they probably don't have Ebola, but they will get a very great deal of scrutiny and attention and care." Swain says.

How do you respond to some people's concerns or questions about flying?

"This is another area, where I think there is some propensity for unwarranted fear and panic, although I understand Ebola is very scary thing. The Ebola virus, first of all, is transmitted through body fluids. It is not transmitted through the air. The second thing is, you have to have direct contact with those fluids. The third is, that the Ebola virus is not that good at living outside the body (on inanimate objects)," Swain says.

What is your best advice for Milwaukee residents?

"Ebola is not something that they need to worry too much about right now. There are things that are much more likely to kill them in terms of public health threats and one of the big ones is influenza. This country sees anywhere between 20,000 - 30,000 deaths per year from influenza and its complications - that are preventable by getting a vaccine," Swain says.

Swain says people also need to know that local public health practitioners are working diligently on the issue and are taking it seriously.

"For example, here in Milwaukee, the health department is working with local hospitals and health care systems to make sure they have protocols in place and those protocols are followed meticulously.

"We're also working very hard to identify people who could potentially have Ebola - so far, we don't have any of those. If we do come up with some, we'll certainly inform the public," Swain says.

Swain says he and his staff are working tirelessly on the issue because it is a potential threat, "but right now, there is no actual threat to people in Milwaukee or Wisconsin."