Ebola Fears May Prompt More Americans With Flu-Like Symptoms to Seek Medical Attention

Ebola fears lead to people confusing the flu for hemorrhagic virus
A higher number of Americans are visiting doctors with flu-like symptoms out of fear of contracting the Ebola virus. Reuters

Fear over the Ebola pandemic has become a big issue among many Americans, leaving people in constant disarray that they will contract the virus at some point. But that fear may have one positive effect, according to experts: an increase in doctor visits and checkups.

A poll by the Harvard School of Health found that 81 percent of Americans are fearful that anyone sick and showing symptoms of Ebola will spread it, and 85 percent believe they would contract the disease if anyone showing symptoms coughed or sneezed on them. These fears, as a result, may lead to a higher number of checkups, which now comes at an important time as the country gears up for flu and cold season, Time reported.

“We might expect to see an increase in people seeking health care for influenza like illness this season,” Dr. Richard Webby, the director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center for Studies on the Ecology of Influenza in Animals and Birds, told Time.

Ebola, when first contracted, shares many of the same symptoms as Influenza, including fever, feeling week, vomiting, and diarrhea. Doctors say that similarities in these symptoms combined with the fear of contracting Ebola may prompt people who think they have the virus to seek medical attention and, as a result, lead to a higher number of diagnoses for flu cases, according to the NY Daily News.

An estimated over 200,000 people end up in the hospital each year from complications of influenza, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also estimates that between five to 20 percent of Americans contract the flu each year, with many choosing not to get medical help.

The country, since March, has experienced a higher number of checkups, with people reporting flu-like symptoms as compared to last year, according to Time. The trend began around the same time as coverage of Ebola increased. People visiting doctors more during disease outbreaks is not an uncommon trend, having taken place at various points in history.

“During the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, we did see an increase of people going to the doctor with flu-like symptoms,” Lynnette Brammer, an epidemiologist for the CDC who developed the surveillance program for keeping track of flu symptoms, told Time. “Normally, they would have stayed at home, but because they were worried about H1N1, they got tested.”

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