News that two Americans are among those inflicted with the Ebola virus in a massive outbreak that has killed more than 600 people in West Africa has rattled the country. Prompted by this panic, the Centers of Disease Control hosted a call Monday afternoon to brief healthcare workers and the general public on what the World Health Organization deems on of the “world’s most virulent diseases.”
Stephan Monroe, Deputy Director of the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases at the CDC, began the call by confirming that the Ebola outbreak is the worst in history. Since March of this year, he said, more than 1,201 people in three different West African countries have been infected, resulting in more than 672 deaths. “This is a rapidly changing situation,” said Monroe. “We do expect more cases in the coming weeks and months.” For this reason, the CDC says its response will be more of a “marathon” than a sprint.
Defined by the CDC as “a hemorrhagic fever….native to several African countries,” Ebola first reared its ugly head in Africa in 1976 with simultaneous cases in Sudan and the Congo. A vaccine has not yet been discovered. Symptoms of the disease, which has anywhere from a 50-90 percent mortality rate, can appear anywhere from two to 21 days after exposure and include headache, fever, joint and muscle aches, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, and lack of appetite. Less commonly, those infected with Ebola display a rash, red eyes, cough, chest pain, difficulty breathing, and bleeding inside and outside of the body. There is no specific treatment beyond what the CDC calls “supportive therapy”—which centers on intravenous fluids and oxygen.
Prior to this outbreak, the most infections in a single year occurred in 1976 when Sudan and Congo presented more than 600 cases combined—more than 400 of which were fatal. In the midst of this international crisis, Monroe says they are “actively educating” American healthcare workers about the increased precautions that must be taken to protect the general population. These precautions include doctors taking even more thorough travel history of patients, watching out for symptoms, and immediately isolating those who present as possible carriers.
Despite news that two Americans have been infected in West Africa, Monroe says the outbreak poses “little risk” to the U.S. population at this time. “The likelihood that it will spread here is very low,” said Monroe. Transmission of the disease occurs through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person (I.e. Blood or other secretions). But the most important thing to note, says Monroe, is that only those who are symptomatic are contagious.
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