Of course, 24/7 TV news networks haven’t helped quell the panic, with pundits claiming the government is covering up news that the virus is spreading in the U.S.
“It’s a common phenomenon that we see: Whatever’s on the news, we’re likely to see in the ER, in terms of people worried that they have it,” said University of Colorado Hospital’s Dr. Michelle Barron.
The result is a greater spread of actual infectious diseases, such as the flu, which people contract in crowded hospitals — ironically making the worrywarts get sick, even if they weren’t before.
But what if you’re feeling ill and you want to consult an actual doctor? Fortunately, there’s a free service: HealthTap.com, a website for free medical advice. HealthTap is a Q&A service that encourages friendly competition among certified physicians to become the most knowledgeable on a given topic.
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I set up a fake HealthTap account to see how helpful the service could be to a hypochondriac. I wrote: “I live in Texas and am feeling a little ill. How can I tell if I have Ebola? Should I go to a hospital and get checked out?”
In 10 minutes, I got the following answer from an actual doctor (and then another one shortly thereafter with the same response):
“If you have either recently traveled to West Africa or been in contact with someone who is actively ill and traveled to that area and you have flu-like symptoms — then getting it checked would make sense. Early sx’s [symptoms]: high fever, chills, sore throat, weakness, fatigue, malaise, headache, lack of appetite, low back pain and muscular/joint aching.”
Another doctor told me to look for additional signs, which most people are likely not experiencing: “Late symptoms are mucous membranes (mouth, nose, etc.) bleeding, expressionless face.”
HealthTap also has a premium service for immediate video advice, but it didn’t seem necessary in this case.
Of course, there are other services that let you consult with a doctor, such as Teladoc or (if your employer subscribes) Grand Rounds. And I could have gotten the same advice by checking the Mayo Clinic article on Ebola or checking WebMD’s Ebola advice. But it’s reassuring to hear it from an actual M.D.
So there you have it. You probably don’t have Ebola. But, if you really need to ask a doctor, the Internet provides.