Should Retailers Be Concerned About the Ebola Virus Outbreak?

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Understanding the Ebola Virus

Typically this time of year the public is taking caution to avoid the flu, but a much more serious virus is capturing everyone’s attention. Most of us are by now familiar with the news that several countries in western Africa are currently contending with the world’s deadliest Ebola outbreak. For us, it’s been hitting even closer to home as New Yorkers; a doctor who recently returned from Guinea has tested positive for Ebola — the first case of the deadly virus in New York City and the fourth diagnosed in the United States.

Obviously everyone’s first concern is “how is it contracted and what should people do to avoid risk?”

Let me be perfectly clear by stating that I am not a doctor or a specialist on disease control; our company is a seasoned service-based provider that cleans, disinfects, maintains and provides emergency and disaster recovery services on a national scale to some of the largest retail brands in the world.

Big brand retailers with long standing loyal customers are reaching out to SMI to enhance their precautionary efforts to provide the safest environment for their patrons and to mitigate unnecessary panic or disruptions in service.

Should Retailers be Concerned about the Ebola Virus Outbreak

Ebola Virus at 108,000 Magnification

The Retail Store Environment

The first line of preparedness should come from Retail Store Managers and support staff. Being aware of a store’s surroundings and the condition and actions of patrons is extremely important at this stage of the outbreak.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, infected patients may present symptoms of fever, gastrointestinal distress and headaches. Most medical professionals and the CDC are stating the virus spreads from person-to-person through direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected individual. It doesn’t seem to spread by being in close proximity, or by casual contact. However, the risk factors are all pointing to contact with blood, feces and other bodily fluids. Coincidentally, this includes coming in contact with sweat and/or a sneezing person. According to the CDC, Ebola is not airborne; it requires those visibly obvious things to happen for transmission to occur.

Since there are many types of surfaces inside retail stores, this creates a plethora of opportunity for germs and even viruses to survive. According to the CDC, a person can contract Ebola through contact with an infected surface. On a positive note, however, Ebola is easily killed with disinfectants like bleach. If it isn’t caught, it can live outside the body on a table or shelf, but not as long as within bodily fluids. So daily cleaning services, high-dusting, floor cleaning and other disinfecting services should definitely be increased in this crucial outbreak period to lessen the chance of possible surface contact with store patrons and staff.

If a patron or employee is demonstrating any form of Ebola symptoms and is cognizant enough to explain they were in an infected region or may have had contact with an infected individual, call 911 and your supervisor and/or corporate offices for a direct plan for emergency services.

Protect Yourself, Your Patrons and Your Stores

These quick facts provided by the CDC will help with understanding the threat, risks and preventative measures to avoid the virus directly:

  • Avoid direct contact
    You can get the Ebola virus if you have “direct contact” with the bodily fluids of a sick person, including blood, saliva, breast milk, stool, sweat, semen, tears, vomit, and urine. “Direct contact” means these fluids need to get into your broken skin (such as a wound) or touch your mucous membranes (mouth, nose, eyes, etc.).
  • Do not kiss, or share food
    One could get Ebola by kissing or sharing food with someone showing symptoms of Ebola. You could get it if that symptomatic person near you happens to bleed or vomit on you and those viral fluids hit your mouth or eyes. You could also get it if you happen to be next to a sick individual, who is sweating profusely, and you touch that virulent sweat to your face.
  • Sexual Transmission
    You can get Ebola through intercourse with an infected individual. The virus has been able to live in semen up to 82 days after a patient became symptomatic, which means sexual transmission — even with someone who has survived the disease for months — is possible.
  • Infected Surfaces
    You can get Ebola through contact with an infected surface. Though Ebola is easily killed with disinfectants like bleach, if it isn’t caught, it can live outside the body on a table or shelf, but not as long as within bodily fluids.
  • Eating Infected Foods
    This is a very unlikely situation, but you can get the virus by eating wild animals infected with Ebola or coming into contact with their bodily fluids. The fruit bat is believed to be the animal reservoir for Ebola, and when it’s prepared for a meal or eaten raw, people get sick.

What’s the Future Concern?

The CDC states the current Ebola virus was presumably discovered in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and South Sudan in 1976. To date, there have only been about 20 known Ebola outbreaks. Until last year, the total impact of these outbreaks included around 2,300 cases and around 1,500 deaths. All occurred in isolated or remote areas of Africa, and Ebola never had a chance to go very far.

Unfortunately, this is what makes the current situation and the new outbreak extremely unpredictable and unsettling on many fronts. The virus has spread to five countries in Africa plus America, and has already infected more than 8,000 people. Over 4,000 people have died. That’s three times the total of all the previous Ebola outbreaks.

CDC is pushing progress 24/7, providing more opportunities for U.S. healthcare providers to receive additional training and to get their questions answered from CDC experts. Anyone wanting more information on the latest progress against this outbreak can get updates online at