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Health officials believe low risk of Ebola in the U.S.

The Ebola virus, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Public Health Image Library
The Ebola virus, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Public Health Image Library
Centers for Disease Control/Wikimedia Commons

As the region of West Africa is being hit hard by the deadly Ebola virus, officials from the United States Centers for Disease Control sent a health alert to U.S. doctors about the disease. The Associated Press reported that the CDC sent the alert on Monday (July 28) but stated that U.S. health officials say the risk of the virus coming to the U.S. is very low. The AP reported that currently there are no travel restrictions for that region but last month the CDC did issue a mid-level travel advisory for health workers.

The humanitarian group Samaritan's Purse announced on the group's Facebook page on Saturday that Dr. Kent Brantly, Medical Director for the group's Ebola Consolidated Case Management Center in Monrovia, Liberia, had tested positive for the virus. Samaritan's Purse said that Dr. Brantly is being treated at an isolation center.

On Sunday, the group announced that a second U.S. citizen, missionary Nancy Writebol, had tested positive for Ebola virus. This person is employed by the company that manages the hospital in Monrovia and had been working closely with Samaritan's Purse to treat patients and fight the Ebola outbreak. Samaritan's Purse posted on the Facebook page requesting prayer for Brantly and Writebol, as well as their families and others dealing with the Ebola crisis in West Africa.

Transmission

According to the CDC, it is uncertain how an Ebola virus outbreak begins. It is believed that it might start after one person has contacted with an infected animal.

Once an outbreak begins, Ebola is transmitted by direct contact with blood or secretions of an infected person or by exposure to objects that have had direct contact with blood or secretions. Needles, gloves, and other medical items would be such objects.

Symptoms

A person infected with Ebola is not contagious until they show symptoms and symptoms show up between 2 and 21 days after exposure with the most common time frame being 8-10 days. The CDC lists typical symptoms of Ebola virus as headache, joint and muscle aches, fever, weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, appetite loss. Some patients may exhibit additional symptoms such as rash, hiccups, cough, red eyes, difficulty breathing and swallowing, sore throat, chest pain, bleeding inside and outside of body.

Treatment

Treatment of Ebola is supportive only, meaning that health care workers can only offer fluids and electrolytes, help maintain the patient's oxygen and blood pressure, and treat patients for complicating infections. While not all who contract Ebola virus will die, the CDC website states that "patients who die usually have not developed a significant immune response to the virus at the time of death."

Prevention

How can Ebola be prevented? According to the CDC, barrier protection is the key. Protective clothing, infection control measures such as the use of disinfectant and equipment sterilization, and isolation of Ebola infected patients are the only prevention available as health officials are not certain about the initial means of infection.

If an Ebola patient dies, it is imperative that there is no direct contact with the deceased person's body in order to stop the spread of the virus.

Leave comments or send emails to Emergency Preparedness Examiner Tammy Lee Morris at tammyleemorris@gmail.com