The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed Tuesday the first case of Ebola diagnosed in the United States in a person who traveled to Dallas from West Africa, while Texas officials urged residents to remain calm and hospitals across the nation said they are prepared to handle additional cases.
The patient developed symptoms five days after arriving in the United States and sought treatment at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas. The medical facility isolated the patient and sent specimens to the CDC for treatment. Health officials plan to monitor close contacts of the patient over the next 21 days but passengers on the commercial flight aren't in danger because the virus is only contagious when patients exhibit symptoms, the CDC said.
Although the case raises concerns because the widespread outbreak in West Africa and other countries has led to more than 3,000 deaths, medical and public health officials across the U.S. say the country's hospitals are well prepared to handle Ebola and it's unlikely that the deadly virus will spin out of control here.
"Ebola can be scary. But there's all the difference in the world between the U.S. and parts of Africa where Ebola is spreading. The United States has a strong healthcare system and public health professionals who will make sure this case does not threaten our communities," CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., said in an announcement. "While it is not impossible that there could be additional cases associated with this patient in the coming weeks, I have no doubt that we will contain this."
Jay M. Bernhardt, Ph.D., director of the University of Texas Center for Health Communication, in an interview with Time, urged Texas residents to remain calm. "Time for panic? Absolutely not," he said. "This is a time to stay informed and follow the instructions of health professionals so they can ensure that the virus doesn't spread."
It's unlikely that the U.S. will face a huge Ebola outbreak because the serious conditions that contributed to the spread of the virus in West Africa don't exist here, according to a report in the National Journal. Those conditions include different burial practices, and a lack of public health education resources and basic healthcare infrastructure.
And hospitals across the country say they are prepared to handle cases of Ebola. Michelle Barron, M.D., medical director Infection and Control at University of Colorado Hospital told 9News that all major hospitals have an emergency plan. Her hospital, she said, has the staffing and resources necessary to treat patients infected with the virus.
"There is nothing special about Atlanta and Emory for what they did for these individuals, said Barron, referring to the three American missionaries infected with Ebola in Liberia and sent to Emory Hospital in Atlanta and Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha for treatment. "It is basic care. They give them blood products if they need them. They give them fluids if they need them."
Jackson Health System in Miami started to prepare for a possible case of Ebola weeks ago, Abdul Memon, chief medical officer for disaster and emergency preparedness at Jackson, told the Tampa Bay Times. "We knew that according to the projection model [the U.S.] would be getting our first case around the end of September or first of October," Memon said.
Although hospitals are prepared to treat patients with the virus, public safety officials say they don't have the processes in place to dispose of Ebola-related waste. The virus spreads through bodily fluids, which would be considered biohazards and require special handling and disposal, FierceHealthcare previously reported. This means hospitals must create a logistical disposal plan now.
To learn more:
- read the CDC's statement and announcement
- here's data on the West African Ebola outbreak
- read the Time coverage
- here's the National Journal report
- read the 9 News story
- check out the Tampa Bay Times coverage