CDC: Ebola could rapidly spread beyond West Africa

"The level of outbreak is beyond anything we've seen -- or even imagined"

Published September 2, 2014 8:10PM (EDT)


Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Thomas Frieden began a press conference on Tuesday with the warning that "the window is closing" on containing the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. "This isn't just the countries' problem," he said. "It's a global problem."

The Daily Beast's Abby Haglage did a thorough write up of Frieden's statement:

At one particular 35-bed facility, Frieden described the chilling sight of more than three-dozen Ebola patients without beds, left with no other place to fight their infections but the floor. The health care workers, too, face "distressing" conditions. "Roasting hot" personal protective gear including robes, masks, boots, and goggles, make simply drawing an IV a near impossible task. "It is very difficult to move... sweat pours into goggles, [the health workers] see the enormous need but the great risk, too," he said." ...

Outside of the isolation centers, the burial process poses its own unique challenges. With the bodies of Ebola victims even more contagious after death, those who handle them are put at great risk of infection. In his travels, Frieden recalled meeting with young men of a burial team working well past 10 p.m. in full protective gear to bury Ebola casualties. After close to 15-hours of grueling work wrapping the bodies, sanitizing them with bleach, and lowering them six feet into the ground, many return home to families who have ostracized them for fear they carry the infection, forcing them to sleep outside on the ground.

Not burying these bodies properly, Frieden says, poses even more of a threat to the community. When he asked how an Ebola intelligence officer was in the elevator one day in West Africa, he was saddened to watch her respond instantly: “Terrible.” Just days before, the officer told him, 19 bodies of Ebola victims were left lying outside with no few men to bury them. The next day, over 35 new cases had developed.

“The most upsetting thing I saw was what I didn’t see,” he continued. “No data from countries where it’s spreading, no rapid response teams, no trucks, a lack of efficient management,” he said. “I could not possibly overstate the need for an urgent response.”

He urged global health workers to get involved on the ground, and stressed that if proper precautions were followed, medical staff could stay safe. "Turning this around will require lots of effort and highly specialized people. Doctors, nurses, health administers, emergency managers. People who can stay for three months or more. The longer you are there, the more effective you can be," Frieden said.

The most recent numbers indicate that Ebola has killed at least 1,552 of the 3,000 or more infected people. On Tuesday, it was reported that a third American doctor had been infected with the virus. He was working with the missionary group SIM in Liberia, and was immediately placed in isolation.

"There is nothing mysterious about what we need to do. The only question is if we'll do it fast enough... For every day that this continues to spread in West Africa, the likelihood of someone getting infected and transmitting it elsewhere increases. As long as Ebola is spreading anywhere, all of us need to be concerned."

By Joanna Rothkopf

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Cdc Ebola Epidemic Thomas Frieden