An outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus has been happening since May of this year in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. More than 1,320 cases have occurred and more than 725 people have died. It is now the largest Ebola outbreak in history, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Because of the size of the outbreak, the CDC is recommending in a new travel advisory that people limit their travel to Sierra Leone for “nonessential” purposes. Despite that warning, the CDC released a statement that there is minimal risk of Ebola in the United States.
Ebola is deadly, but rare, killing as many as 90 percent of people who contract it. It is native to several African countries, and it is spread by direct contact with the blood or body fluids of a person with Ebola. Contaminated objects or infected animals also can spread the virus.
Symptoms include fever, headache, joint and muscle aches as well as diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain. Patients may also have skin rash, red eyes, and internal and external bleeding. There is no vaccine or specific treatment for Ebola.
In the current outbreak, at least three Americans have gotten Ebola. Two are health care workers. Additionally, “civil unrest and violence against aid workers” is occurring against aid workers in West Africa, and public health authorities in Sierra Leone are being “severely strained” as the outbreak continues, the CDC notes.
Because of these issues, Sierra Leone is making its prevention efforts stronger, such as limiting public gatherings, instituting quarantine measures in communities affected by Ebola, and relying on police and military personnel to enforce prevention and control efforts.
Due to the serious nature of the outbreak, the CDC is recommending that Americans not travel to Sierra Leone unless it is essential, such as for humanitarian aid work. The CDC has published guidelines on how to avoid exposure to the blood and body fluids of people who have Ebola. These guidelines must be followed when visiting the country.
“This recommendation to avoid nonessential travel is intended to facilitate control of the outbreak and prevent continued spread in two ways: to protect U.S. residents who may be planning travel to the affected areas and to enable the government of Sierra Leone to respond most effectively to contain this outbreak,” the CDC report states.
The CDC also issued a statement today from director Tom Frieden, who said at a recent telebriefing on the issue that the agency “recognizes that there will be concerns in the United States,” about Ebola spreading to the United States, but that “Ebola poses little risk to the U.S. general population.”
First, Ebola doesn’t spread from others who aren’t yet sick with the virus. “If someone has been exposed but they are not sick and someone else has contact with that individual, they are not at risk of getting Ebola,” Frieden says. “Ebola is spread as people get sicker and sicker. They have fever and may develop severe symptoms,” and others should avoid exposure to blood and body fluids.
And second, health care workers in the United States are trained to care for people with serious infectious diseases, Frieden says.
“… in this country, we are confident that we will not have significant spread of Ebola, even if we were to have a patient with Ebola here. We work actively to educate American health care workers on how to isolate patients and how to protect themselves against infection,” he explains.
“In fact, any advanced hospital in the U.S., any hospital with an intensive care unit has the capacity to isolate patients,” Frieden adds. “There is nothing particularly special about the isolation of an Ebola patient other than it's really important to do it right. So ensuring that there is meticulous care of patients with suspected or if we have confirmed Ebola is what's critically important.”