Ebola continues to spread; infected Americans to return home

While the chance of an outbreak in the U.S. is unlikely, health organizations prepare just in case

Topics: ebola, WHO, cdC, outbreak, Disease, Liberia, Nigeria, guinea, Sierra Leone, ,

Ebola continues to spread; infected Americans to return homeScanning electron microscopic image of Ebola virions (Credit: Public Library of Science)

Ebola continues to spread rapidly in West Africa, with the death count rising and no easy solutions on the horizon. In a statement, director-general of the World Health Organization Margaret Chan wrote that the outbreak “is moving faster than our efforts to control it … If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences can be catastrophic in terms of lost lives but also severe socioeconomic disruption and a high risk of spread to other countries.”

The outbreak is the largest in history and, as of Sunday, has resulted in 909 cases and 485 deaths (including 60 aid workers) in Guinea, Sierra Leone Liberia and Nigeria, and up to 1,323 cases and 729 deaths overall. It seems that this outbreak is so severe for a combination of unlucky reasons including the fact that the virus was able to spread to a number of major cities with international airports.

According to an AP report, WHO has announced plans to launch a $100 million response plan that would deploy hundreds more aid workers to the region. Still, widespread fear of contagion makes research difficult — many drivers are afraid to transport vials of blood for fear that they might contract the disease.

Meanwhile, the two American aid workers diagnosed with Ebola are heading back to the U.S. for treatment at Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital, according to the State Department. In a statement, the State Department emphasizes that the “safety and security of U.S. citizens is our paramount concern. Every precaution is being taken to move the patients safely and securely, to provide critical care en route on a non-commercial aircraft, and to maintain strict isolation upon arrival in the United States.”

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This news has been troubling to some who worry that the patients’ return will lead to an outbreak in the U.S., but officials from the WHO and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stress that there is nothing to worry about, but have a plan in place just in case.

The U.S. News and World Report has more information on protocol:

“Any hospital with an intensive care unit has the chance to isolate patients,” [Dr. Tom Friedan, director of the CDC] says. The CDC this week sent an advisory about Ebola to state and local health departments, says Jennifer Schleman, a spokeswoman for the American Hospital Association. “Hospitals coordinate closely with their public health departments to monitor and respond to these situations,” she says. “As part of their 24/7 standby role, every hospital has an emergency plan that they regularly exercise and update. When there is a greater risk, hospitals increase their surveillance for signs of symptoms associated with the specific disease.”

If a patient comes into a hospital with a fever and has traveled to West Africa recently, the CDC recommends immediate quarantine, contacting local health officials and the CDC, and carrying out rapid testing, Frieden says. Other signs of infection are headache, joint and muscle aches, diarrhea and vomiting; it takes anywhere from two to 21 days from the time of infection for a person to show symptoms of the disease. Someone who is infected but does not yet have symptoms is not yet contagious, health officials say.”

For a more in-depth look at what it will take to contain the virus, read Lindsay Abrams’ explainer.

Joanna Rothkopf
Joanna Rothkopf is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on science, health and society. Follow @JoannaRothkopf or email jrothkopf@salon.com.

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