- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The first case of Ebola has been confirmed in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, after a Dallas patient visited Liberia – the West African country which is experiencing one of the worst outbreaks of the disease in history.

The patient, who was in the U.S. to visit family, was admitted by the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas on Sept. 28 after developing symptoms of the virus, including fever, and was immediately placed in isolation, said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden in a press conference Tuesday.

The patient didn’t have any symptoms of the disease while on the plane, and only someone who is sick and suffering its effects can spread Ebola, said Dr. Frieden, as it is not an airborne disease.

About four days lapsed in between the patient becoming symptomatic and being admitted to the hospital, Dr. Frieden said. During that time the person came in contact with a “handful” of people, including relatives, who will be monitored for the disease for 21 days.

There is an ongoing investigation as to whom may have been directly exposed, Dr. Frieden said. The patient’s flight information was not released.

There are no other Ebola cases in Texas at this time, officials said.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that we will stop it here,” said Dr. Frieden. “Where there are patients in this country who become ill, they are isolated and we will do the tried and true interventions that stop the spread of Ebola.”

Ebola tests were given in Miami, New York, California and New Mexico. They all tested negative for the virus. 

At least four American medical missionaries became infected and fell ill in Africa while treating Ebola patients. All were flown back to the U.S. in isolation and have recovered.

The West African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea have been hit hard by Ebola with it killing more than 3,000 people and infecting others. A total of 6,574 cases have been reported, according to the World Health Organization, on information collected through Sept. 23. There is a separate outbreak in Congo.

Ebola’s mortality rate in Africa is as high as 90 percent and is spread through intimate contact with bodily fluids such as vomit, mucus, blood or feces.

But the virus, which causes a fever followed by internal bleeding, is difficult to spread by air travel or in a first-world context, according to Dr. Ian W. Lipkin, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University.

“An infected individual could board a flight in West Africa, become symptomatic in the air or after landing and then expose others to the virus. At worst, this might result in a few other people becoming infected and possibly dying,” Dr. Lipkin wrote in the Wall Street Journal last month. “But sustained outbreaks would not occur in the U.S. because cultural factors in the developing world that spread Ebola — such as intimate contact while family and friends are caring for the sick and during the preparation of bodies for burial — aren’t common in the developed world. Health authorities would also rapidly identify and isolate infected individuals.”

Rep. Michael Burgess, a Texas Republican whose district is just 35 miles from the Dallas hospital with the infected patient, said the inevitable had happened given current global patterns of travel and trade.

Unfortunately, the inevitable has occurred. In this global age in which we live, this type of spread was very likely with an epidemic of this size and scope,” Mr. Burgess said in a statement.

“While our country’s infection control capabilities and isolation techniques to contain the virus are strong, the seriousness of this virus and the ease with which it may be contracted makes intense vigilance in the monitoring of local contacts critical,” he said.

In a speech at the United Nations last week, President Obama criticized the international response to the Ebola outbreak, saying the disease could kill hundreds of thousands of people if global institutions and individual nations don’t commit more resources to combat the virus.

“If ever there were a public-health emergency deserving of an urgent, strong and coordinated international response, this is it,” Mr. Obama said in his Sept. 25 speech. The U.S. has sent about 3,000 military personnel to West Africa to build treatment centers, coordinate aid, and train health-care workers.

President Obama spoke via phone Tuesday with Dr. Frieden and discussed Ebola isolation protocols and efforts to figure out where the patient may have contracted the virus.

Dr. Frieden noted that the CDC had been prepared for an Ebola case in the United States, and that we have the infrastructure in place to respond safely and effectively,” the White House said.

In August, the World Health Organization said it saw no reason to cancel flight connections to the three West African countries overwhelmed by Ebola — even as it termed the epidemics there a global health emergency.

In the 38 years that the WHO has tracked the disease, no Ebola epidemic on record began with an infected airline passenger, according to the organization.

Even so, British Airways has decided to suspend its service to Liberia and Sierra Leone for the remainder of the year.

Upon the heels of the first U.S. Ebola confirmation, Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, renewed his call for the CDC to direct U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to enact active screening of travelers demonstrating Ebola symptoms at U.S. ports of entry.

As of yet, no U.S. airline has decided to suspend service to the infected West African regions.

In its worst-case scenario the CDC modeled as many as 1.4 million people could be infected with Ebola by mid-January in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

• Ben Wolfgang contributed to this report.

 

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