Although it is said to be the largest in history, the worsening Ebola outbreak in West Africa does not pose a threat to the United States, federal health officials say.
Hundreds of people have died in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a warning to avoid nonessential travel to those countries.
Two Americans who contracted the disease are being transported to an Atlanta hospital for treatment, the first time known Ebola victims have entered the U.S. The CDC says all appropriate precautions are being taken in transporting and treating those victims.
“This is the biggest and most complex Ebola outbreak in history. Far too many lives have been lost already,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D. “It will take many months, and it won’t be easy, but Ebola can be stopped. We know what needs to be done. CDC is surging our response, sending 50 additional disease control experts to the region in the next 30 days.”
There is no cure for the disease, which causes multiple organ failure and often kills its victims in a matter of days. Typically, the disease has a 60% mortality rate.
Although it is contagious and is spread by contact with bodily fluids, Ebola is not as easily spread as the flu, HIV or other infectious diseases. It is contagious only when the patient is sick with the symptoms of the disease; the corpse of a deceased victim can also be contagious.
The key to containing Ebola is educating family members, enforcing strict protocols by healthcare workers and tracking victims so that care can be provided to those they may inadvertently infect.
Previous outbreaks have burned themselves out over a period of several months, CDC officials said at a telebriefing, but the advent of modern air travel across Africa makes it easier for the disease to spread more widely in a short period of time.
Nevertheless, CDC expects its efforts not only to help bring the current outbreak under control, but to leave behind stronger systems to prevent, detect and stop Ebola and other outbreaks before they spread.
In addition to warning travelers to avoid going to the region, CDC is also assisting with active screening and education efforts on the ground in West Africa to prevent sick travelers from getting on planes.
On the remote possibility that they do, CDC has protocols in place to protect against further spread of disease. These include notification to CDC of ill passengers on a plane before arrival, investigation of ill travelers, and, if necessary, quarantine. CDC also provides guidance to airlines for managing ill passengers and crew and for disinfecting aircraft.
Earlier this week, CDC issued a Health Alert Notice reminding U.S. healthcare workers of the importance of taking steps to prevent the spread of this virus, how to test and isolate suspected patients and how they can protect themselves from infection.