UPDATED: First Ebola case in U.S. confirmed: Here's why there's (probably) no reason to panic

The CDC confirmed that a patient in Northern Texas has tested positive for Ebola

Published September 30, 2014 9:53PM (EDT)


UPDATE (5:45 p.m. ET): At 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, CDC Director Tom Frieden hosted a press conference summarizing the situation. Frieden said, "There are core, tried and true public health interventions that can stop [the spread of Ebola]." He explained that the individual who tested positive for Ebola left Liberia on Sept. 19 and arrived to the United States on Sept. 20, although at that time he or she had no symptoms. Around Sept. 24, this individual began to develop symptoms, although this person did not seek care for two more days. The individual was finally admitted to the hospital and placed in isolation on Sept. 28.

Frieden said that the next steps were three-fold. The first priority will be to provide the highest level of care for the patient. Second, health care professionals will do all they can to maximize the chance of the patient's survival. Finally, officials will identify all people who may have come into contact with the patient while he or she was infectious and will monitor these individuals for the following 21 days to see if they show signs of infection. If so, they will be put under isolation immediately.

He emphasized that while some of the people the patient came into contact with may get Ebola, there is "no doubt in [his] mind" that the disease will not spread any further.

Frieden was joined via telephone by Dr. David Lakey, Commissioner of the Texas Dept. of State Health Services, Dr. Edward Goodman, the hospital epidemiologist at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas where the patient is in isolation, and Zachary Thompson, the director of the Dallas County Health and Human Services who all stressed that state and health officials are well-equipped to deal with the virus.

EARLIER: On Tuesday afternoon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that a patient recently admitted to a Dallas hospital tested positive for the Ebola virus, marking the first incidence of the disease in the United States.

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Reuters' Marice Richter reported that health officials are more than ready to act to prevent theh disease's spread:

Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas officials said in a statement on Monday that an unnamed patient was being tested for Ebola and had been placed in "strict isolation" due to the patient's symptoms and recent travel history.

Texas and Dallas County health officials are in close contact with the CDC, which would send its experts to Dallas if tests on the patient confirm Ebola, said Zach Thompson, director of the Dallas County Department of Health and Human Services.

"Everyone is preparing for the worst and hoping for the best," he said.

While this is a tragedy for the individual and his or her family, there is no need to expect an epidemic in this country. “Controlling Ebola is not a very sophisticated task,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, a biosecurity specialist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center told The Hill. “Ebola outbreaks are stopped in their tracks when basic public health measures are in place … and the United States would not be a hospitable environment for something that spreads exclusively through blood and body fluids.”

In an interview with Salon, Dr. Stephen Morse, professor and director of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology program at Columbia University Medical Center, also expressed confidence in the ability of American health systems to contain the disease:

There has been a lot of attention paid to Ebola and a lot of publicity, so I think the level of awareness among clinicians at least, and even the general public, is fairly high, which is very important. As you know, we had a couple of people come from that area, it was thought possibly that they could have Ebola. Although it was probably doubtful given their history, but you don’t take chances. And they were put into isolation. I think as far as I can tell, generally the right things were done and they tested negative when the test came back. With Ebola, most of the danger is close contact; you’ve heard this already. Bodily fluids, etc., etc., it doesn’t spread by the respiratory route, really. I mean if somebody coughs or something and it gets into your eye or something like that … But that’s not very common...

[Patients who are suspected to have Ebola] would be moved to a hospital. I think any of the larger hospitals here, if they had a suspicion that this could be an infectious disease that required appropriate precaution, I think it would probably happen properly with the appropriate isolation and all the other things you hear about, with equipment and practices for infection control for the staff and anyone who comes in contact with the patient.

A press conference held by the CDC will occur at 5:30 p.m.

By Joanna Rothkopf

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