Ebola starts with a fever and aches and pains, sort of like the flu. Then comes vomiting and diarrhea. Then comes a red rash. If the disease progresses, the whites of your eyes turn red. You start to hemorrhage internally. Then you start bleeding from your eyes, your ears, your mouth, and every other orifice. Then you die.
Ebola is uncommonly grisly and horrifying, but it starts like the flu. And just as detecting its symptoms is especially critical in dealing with the disease and stopping its spread, ordinary flu season is upon us, making the task even more difficult. Screening measures may confuse flu with Ebola, and people with the flu will panic, thinking they might have Ebola. (Then again, experts are saying that more people will die from flu than Ebola.)
A friend of mine, a nurse, was at our local hospital and saw a horde descend in hazmat suits. Sure enough, we have a possible Ebola case. Or maybe it’s the flu.
This is not a matter for the imagination: A little more than a month from now, several thousand Americans will have Ebola-like symptoms.
At the same time, millions of Americans will begin to set out from home for the busiest travel weekend of the year.
In a nation already jumpy with fear of the lethal virus that has killed more than 4,000 people in West Africa and one person in the United States — a Liberian man who flew to Texas — the confluence of the onset of flu season and the mass migration around Thanksgiving weekend figures to put people on edge.
Consider the similar symptoms.
Ebola: a 101-degree-or-higher fever, severe headache, muscle pain, weakness, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea.
Flu: a 100-degree-or-higher fever, headache, body ache, fatigue, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea.
With airline crews on alert, passengers scrutinizing each other for Ebola symptoms and special screening being established at major international airports, there is already evidence that one sickness can be mistaken for the other. As the flu begins its annual spread and holiday travel picks up in the coming weeks, the confusion is likely to lead to anxious moments.