As the death toll from the Ebola virus in African continues to climb, and with two Americans infected with the disease coming back to the states for treatment, health officials are trying to calm fears that an outbreak could happen here.
“There’s been concern that bringing these ill Americans home will cause spread of the disease in the U.S. This is not a reasonable concern,” said Carrie DeLone, MD, Pennsylvania’s Physician General. “These individuals are contained in a bubble environment during transport and remain so until they get to their isolation unit here”
Once in the U.S., DeLone said the health care system is much better equipped to handle infectious disease than areas of Africa that have been affected, according to DeLone. She also said an outbreak in the U.S. is unlikely because Ebola is actually difficult to contract.
“Contact with bodily fluids such as blood, saliva, urine and feces is necessary to spread the disease," she said. "Exposure to contaminated needles or equipment that has not been adequately sterilized is also a risk. Casual contact like passing someone in the street, sitting on a bus or in a plane is not considered a high-risk situation.”
Still, health officials across Pennsylvania and the U.S. are taking the situation seriously. Dr. Bruce MacLeod, president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society and physician with the Allegheny Health Network, said communication is ongoing among federal, state and local health organizations, including the Allegheny County Health Department.
“We’re able to educate physicians, which is where patients are going to go to ask their questions about what’s going on,” said MacLeod.
To that end, health officials are spreading the message to physicians that one of the top questions to ask of any patient presenting symptoms is if they’ve recently traveled to a region affected by Ebola.
“So someone who has fevers, muscle aches, weakness, they probably don’t have Ebola, they have the common cold or they have the flu,” said John Goldman, an infectious disease expert at PinnacleHealth in Harrisburg. “On the other hand, if they have traveled to one of the areas where this disease is occurring, it’s important that they see their doctor right away.”
Those areas are Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and there has now been one death in Nigeria.
In the event someone with symptoms and a travel history to any infected region is identified, Dr. Kristen Sandel, an emergency medicine physician in Reading, said hospitals across Pennsylvania have received information on what to do. Procedures would include isolating the patient until Ebola is ruled out, ensuring safety of healthcare workers, and then, if infected, treatment for the patient.
Ebola currently has no vaccine or antidote.