"The differential diagnosis of illness in travelers arriving from countries with widespread Ebola virus transmission must include not only [Ebola] but also malaria and other more common infections, such as influenza, other respiratory tract infections, and travelers' diarrhea," a new study reports. (Credit: Jonathan Cohen/Flickr)

Ebola

Does focus on Ebola miss other deadly diseases?

Clinicians looking for Ebola among sick travelers coming from West African countries may miss more common deadly illnesses, especially malaria, which requires quick diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

“The differential diagnosis of illness in travelers arriving from countries with widespread Ebola virus transmission must include not only [Ebola] but also malaria and other more common infections, such as influenza, other respiratory tract infections, and travelers’ diarrhea,” researchers write in a new study led by David Hamer, professor of global health at Boston University.

“The optimal strategy is preventing infections through comprehensive pre-travel interventions and, for ill travelers, promptly diagnosing and treating illnesses, such as malaria, and initiating empirical treatment if bacteremia, influenza, or meningitis is suspected.”

Shared symptoms

Patients with Ebola virus typically present with fever, fatigue, myalgia, headache, and gastrointestinal symptoms. These nonspecific symptoms are shared by many other frequently encountered infectious diseases, researchers say.

For the study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers reviewed records from 57 travel clinics in 25 countries in the GeoSentinal Network—a clinic-based global surveillance network that tracks infectious diseases and other adverse health outcomes in travelers—to define the spectrum of illness seen in ill travelers returning from Sierra Leone, Liberia, or Guinea, countries where Ebola virus transmission has been widespread.

Malaria was the most frequent diagnosis among nonimmigrant travelers, affecting about 40 percent of patients. Among immigrants from the same area, latent tuberculosis was one of the most frequently diagnosed illnesses.

Researchers suggest that clinicians should use these data to develop a differential diagnosis and care plan for travelers who arrive from the region with a fever.

“Where adequate laboratory capacity exists, ruling out malaria in travelers from West Africa is critical to limiting morbidity and mortality,” they say in the study.

“In situations where laboratory infrastructure is inadequate or a diagnostic result will be delayed, administration of empirical antimalarial therapy and broad-spectrum antibiotic coverage for bacteremia is imperative and potentially life-saving.”

Source: Boston University

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