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This site advocates the use of essential oils as complements to healthy living, not as medicine, however recently Young Living and its distributors were cited by the FDA for promoting Young Living Essential oils as anti-virals (including against Ebola), anti-cancer, and a host of other conditions that “cannot be self-diagnosed” (FDA Letter to Young Living). This action raises a few issues—including how essential oils are marketed (since they are not considered a drug they are not required to pass through the clinical testing a drug does in order to be approved by the FDA) and whether we can make claims that essential oils will be helpful against Ebola.
I am usually fairly rational, but Ebola is scary. It can be spread by contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, but can survive dry on surfaces such as doorknobs for up to 5 hours, and can survive in bodily fluids such as blood, saliva, vomit, feces, sweat, tears, breast milk, and urine for a few days, and has been reported in semen for up to 100 days (CDC). With the first US exposure occurring in an urban area, and 2 reports of healthcare workers using public transportation within the 21 day incubation period, it is not hard to imagine that it could spread across the continent quite easily. So, how can we prevent a widespread outbreak?
I believe it is up to us to be especially diligent in infection control procedures. As someone who works in healthcare I am more aware of disease transmission. I am always after my kids to keep their fingers out of their noses, mouth and eyes. I make sure they wash their hands or use sanitizer after being in public places. I do the same. I am not paranoid in these procedures—I don’t wipe down my grocery cart, and I prefer to wash my hands over using sanitizer. (Why? Because if we kill all the weak bugs, only the strong ones are left to replicate making us sicker than ever). But, I do practice diligence. There is a great video called If Saliva were Red (from 2:10 to 3:40 shows how the saliva is spread to everything that is touched) that is meant for the dental profession, but nicely illustrates how everything you touch can be or can become contaminated. We can extrapolate that to our everyday life—if we cough or sneeze into our hand and then open a doorknob, or touch an apple in the grocery store…you can see how disease can spread.
So, now back to the question I advertised at the beginning, can essential oils prevent Ebola? The answer is we don’t know. There is clinical evidence that essential oils are anti-viral, some more powerfully than others. There are claims that some essential oils boost immunity. There is clinical evidence that essential oils can reduce microbial counts in both the air and on surfaces when diffused in a room. But as far as I can tell, no one has tried to use essential oils in Ebola treatment so we can only speculate.
My answer to the question is, when used following all safety measures for the oil itself, it can’t hurt. There have been some non-human trials that suggest the possibility of airborne transmission, so using an essential oil diffuser to reduce airborne droplets and surface contamination might help. Essential oil room sprays may help. Surviving Ebola is in part due to a person’s immune response and so anything we can do to encourage a strong, healthy immune system will help: nutritious diet and regular exercise. Certain supplements and immunity promoting essential oils may be an adjunct in promoting a healthy immune system. Unlike one of the posts cited in the FDA warning letter to Young Living, where a distributor recommended topical application and ingestion of Thieves oil at frequent intervals, I would suggest that such a regimen can be dangerous in and of itself. Even though essential oils are not drugs, they must be treated with caution and the Thieves blend contains some of the most powerful and sensitizing oils in common use. In fact, most of the oils in Thieves should not be used for more than 2 weeks at a time.
What can we do?
Be prudent and diligent. Live life, but be cautious in any public area.
• If you are contagious with anything—even a cold or flu—do your community a favor and avoid public places until you are no longer contagious.
• Wash your hands thoroughly after being in public areas. (Two 30 second washes with soap and water can be more effective than one longer wash).
• When you have touched surfaces in public spaces, assume your hands have germs and avoid touching your mouth, eyes, nose or any other mucous membrane until you have washed or sanitized them. Teach your kids this.
• Don’t pick through the produce at the grocery store, especially if you are sick. Every potato you touch could become infectious to the next person who touches or eats it (Grocery stores—why do I need tongs and tissues to buy donuts but anyone can manhandle the produce with bare hands?)
• Don’t assume Ebola isn’t in your community yet. People travel every day and the virus is invisible until symptoms manifest.
• If you are caring for a sick person who has fever, diarrhea, or vomiting, be cautious in handling their bodily fluids. In a household, rubber gloves wouldn’t hurt for cleaning up sick messes.
• Most of all, don’t panic. If we all exercise a measure of caution, we can prevent a widespread outbreak. This isn’t the first Ebola outbreak. It has been stopped before and it can be again if we all do our part. It does not rest solely on the CDC to solve this for us, it rests on us to be smart about our actions.