With Emory University Hospital in Atlanta planning to receive and treat two U.S. citizens who are sick with Ebola, some Americans have expressed fear that the deadly outbreak — which has killed at least 729 people in West Africa — could spread in the United States.
If you’re one of them, you can calm down. Health officials say there is virtually no danger to the public. Here’s what you need to know about the deadly virus:
Q: What’s the likelihood of a major Ebola outbreak happening in the U.S.?
A: Remote, according to officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If an Ebola patient were to be identified here, American health systems would quickly identify, isolate and treat the person, along with anyone who may have come into contact with him or her.
The CDC and the World Health Organization say it’s very unlikely that American travelers to West Africa could contract the disease, since they would have to come in direct contact with an infected person’s blood, organs or other bodily secretions.
Weak health care systems in West Africa have helped the disease has spread rapidly there. So have traditional burial rituals that involve washing the bodies of loved ones after death.
Q: Why are we bringing people known to have Ebola into the country?
A: Evacuation to the U.S. ensures that the two aid workers will have access to “modern medical facilities and technology” that could save their life, a White House spokesman said Thursday.
Dr. Kent Brantly and missionary Nancy Writebol both contracted Ebola while working in Liberia and are in serious condition, according to Christian aid organization Samaritan’s Purse. Plans are underway to transport them to the U.S. by early next week.
Q: Will other people in the plane be in danger?
A: The patients won’t be flying on a regular commercial airline. They will be transported via a private medical charter plane outfitted with an isolation pod. It’s a portable, tent-like structure that can prevent infected patients from exposing flight crews and other passengers to the deadly virus.
Q: What happens after they land in the U.S.?
A: Emory University Hospital said it will house its two Ebola patients in a state-of-the-art isolation unit on the hospital campus. The facility, only one of four of its kind in the country, was built in collaboration with the CDC, and is separate from other patient areas.
The unit is outfitted with equipment that provides “an extraordinarily high level” of isolation and assures that its doctors and staff members are highly trained in treating Ebola patients, according to a statement from the hospital.
Since there is no specific treatment or cure for Ebola, the patients aren’t likely to receive any care unique to the U.S. facility. But they will probably receive an IV drip to help them combat dehydration.
Q: Are there any Ebola patients in the United States now?
A: No. According to the World Health Organization, the countries that have reported confirmed or probable cases within their borders are all in West Africa: Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria.
Brantly’s wife and two children were living with him in Liberia, and they left for the U.S. just days before he fell ill. They are currently staying with other family members in Texas.
The state Department of Health is currently monitoring their health for any signs of the disease, according to a CDC spokesman.
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Q: Might I encounter someone with Ebola at an aiport?
A: Probably not. All of the affected West African nations have announced plans to screen airport passengers before they leave. That includes taking their temperatures to check for fevers.
In the event that a passenger does become ill on a flight, commercial airlines have received special instructions from the CDC on how to notify the agency and effectively isolate the patient — as well as anyone who may have had contact with that person — on arrival. The CDC has 20 isolation stations at major airports around the country. These are staffed 24/7 and are fully equipped to deal with an Ebola patient should they enter the country ill.
Q: There’s a conference of African nations in Washington, D.C., next week. Couldn’t that bring an infected person to the U.S.?
A: President Barack Obama said Friday that U.S. officials are taking extra precautions in light of the Ebola crisis. Anyone leaving the affected countries will be screened for Ebola before departure and screened again upon arrival in the United States.
The CDC has also said it is working on a “multiagency” approach to ensure that anyone who may fall ill during the conference is given the proper medical care immediately, and is appropriately isolated to contain the threat.
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Q: I’m still worried about contracting Ebola. Should I be on the lookout for symptoms?
A: There’s really no need. Unless you or someone you have been in close contact with has recently traveled to West Africa, there’s almost no chance you will get sick with Ebola.
Even if someone is infected, they are not contagious until they exhibit obvious symptoms of being ill, such as fever, vomiting or diarrhea, according to the WHO.
But if you must know, symptoms of Ebola include sudden fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, and headaches, along with vomiting and diarrhea. The disease can cause kidney and liver failure, as well as internal bleeding. If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms and has recently traveled to Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, or a country nearby, go immediately to your doctor and tell them about your recent travel.
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