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First-week symptoms similar for Ebola and influenza

Flu season is underway across the U.S. and as fears about Ebola spread, it’s possible that some people could confuse the two viruses since they both exhibit similar symptoms in the beginning. 

Aggressive Flu Strain Arrives Early And Spreads Rapidly Through U.S.
Scott Olson, Getty Images

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), influenza symptoms include: fever, headache and body aches, vomiting and sometimes a mild cough or sore throat. The first-week symptoms of the deadly Ebola virus are the same.

“The early symptoms are very similar, but there are also some big differences. The cough is worse in flu, and the amount of runny nose is much more pronounced with flu,” said Dr. Richard Porwancher, a clinical associate professor of medicine and infectious diseases at Rutgers-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

With only three confirmed Ebola cases in the U.S. so far, health officials are advising people not to panic.

Another big difference between the two viruses is there’s generally not a next step in regards to symptoms with influenza. Porwancher said nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain is usually very prominent in Ebola cases, but it’s much less common in flu cases.  In addition, most Ebola patients develop a rash after the first four or five days, something that is usually not the case with flu.

People are much more likely to get the flu than Ebola, according to Porwancher, because so far everyone who has gotten Ebola has had a travel or exposure risk factor.

“When it comes to Ebola, we’re not dealing with a flu-like illness where your average person could simply be exposed through casual contact. Ebola does require contact with fluids, someone who’s been infected – generally someone from an infected area,” Porwancher said.

People who have recently traveled to West Africa, the source of the outbreak, or who have had direct exposure to someone who has tested positive for the virus, should be concerned about contracting Ebola, according to Porwancher.

“I don’t think New Jerseyans really should be worried about Ebola. I think what they should be worried about is standard illnesses.” Porwancher said.

He stressed that anyone that becomes ill should contact their physician.

More than 4,500 people out of 9,000 infected have died from Ebola, with the number of cases possibly doubling every four weeks, according to the Worldwide Health Organization (WHO).

Over a period of 30 years, between 1976 and 2006, estimates of flu-associated deaths in the United States range from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people, according to the CDC.

To learn more about influenza and its symptoms, click here. For more information about Ebola, click here.


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