Ebola outbreak: 10 American aid workers under voluntary isolation after potential exposure

Although the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has subsided, the deadly virus is far from finished. As many as 10 American aid workers were flown from Sierra Leone to the United States for observation this weekend after they were possibly exposed to Ebola.

Partners in Health, a Boston-based aid group, confirmed that the workers are asymptomatic but did have contact with a colleague who tested positive and is currently undergoing treatment at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

The workers will remain in voluntary isolation near designated U.S. Ebola treatment facilities so that they can receive immediate treatment if they begin to show symptoms of the virus.

The latest exposure is a reminder that the Ebola crisis lives on in West Africa. The World Health Organization reported a total of 116 new confirmed cases the week of March 8 and 132 cases the week before.

The incidents also highlight the fact that the attention on Ebola threatens to create a secondary epidemic in West Africa of preventable diseases, according to a new study in Science. The outbreak, researchers said, has disrupted healthcare services, including childhood vaccinations for measles. This will soon create another public health crisis. Researchers project as many as 227,000 measles cases and 16,000 additional deaths in approximately six to 18 months due to the disruption in services.

"Measles in particular is known to show up during or after humanitarian crises because it's so infectious," Justin Lessler, an assistant professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Wired during a press briefing.

"The disruptions (in healthcare and vaccinations) would lead to nearly 400,000 additional unvaccinated children," in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, he added. "This number of unvaccinated children would be in addition to an already considerable at-risk population and significantly increases the likelihood of a major measles outbreak occurring and the impact of one if it were to occur."

A report last month criticized the U.S. response to the Ebola outbreak because the public focused more on catching Ebola through contact with visitors from West Africa rather than addressing meaningful relief for those nations. The report called for stronger healthcare and emergency response infrastructure, and comprehensive integration of ethics expertise in every aspect of public health emergency planning, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- read the first and second statements from Partners in Health
- here's the latest WHO statistics
- check out the study abstract in Science
- read the story in Wired