The Ebola virus. Image courtesy of the CDC
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed today, through laboratory tests, the first case of Ebola to be diagnosed in the United States in a person who had traveled to Dallas from Liberia. The patient did not have symptoms when leaving West Africa, but developed symptoms approximately four days after arriving in the U.S. on Sept. 20, 2014.
The person fell ill on Sept. 24 and sought medical care at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas on Sept. 26, 2014. After developing symptoms consistent with Ebola, he was admitted to hospital on Sept. 28, 2014. Based on the person’s travel history and symptoms, CDC recommended testing for Ebola. The medical facility isolated the patient and sent specimens for testing at CDC and at a Texas lab participating in the CDC’s Laboratory Response Network. CDC and the Texas Health Department reported the laboratory test results to the medical center to inform the patient. Local public health officials have begun identifying close contacts of the person for further daily monitoring for 21 days after exposure. A CDC team was dispatched to Dallas this morning.
“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,” says CDC director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “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.”
The ill person did not exhibit symptoms of Ebola during the flights from West Africa and CDC does not recommend that people on the same commercial airline flights undergo monitoring, as Ebola is only contagious if the person is experiencing active symptoms. The person reported developing symptoms several days after the return flight. Anyone concerned about possible exposure may call CDC-Info at 800-CDC-INFO for more information.
CDC recognizes that even a single case of Ebola diagnosed in the United States raises concerns. Knowing the possibility exists, medical and public health professionals across the country have been preparing to respond. CDC and public health officials in Texas are taking precautions to identify people who have had close personal contact with the ill person and health care professionals have been reminded to use meticulous infection control at all times.
We do know how to stop Ebola’s further spread: thorough case finding, isolation of ill people, contacting people exposed to the ill person, and further isolation of contacts if they develop symptoms. The U.S. public health and medical systems have had prior experience with sporadic cases of diseases such as Ebola. In the past decade, the United States had 5 imported cases of Viral Hemorrhagic Fever (VHF) diseases similar to Ebola (1 Marburg, 4 Lassa). None resulted in any transmission in the U.S.
CDC has been anticipating and preparing for a case of Ebola in the United States. We have been:
•Enhancing surveillance and laboratory testing capacity in states to detect cases
•Developing guidance and tools for health departments to conduct public health investigations
•Providing recommendations for healthcare infection control and other measures to prevent disease spread
•Providing guidance for flight crews, Emergency Medical Services units at airports, and Customs and Border Protection officers about reporting ill travelers to CDC
•Disseminating up-to-date information to the general public, international travelers, and public health partners
The data health officials have seen in the past few decades since Ebola was discovered indicates that it is not spread through casual contact or through the air. Ebola is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids of a sick person or exposure to objects such as needles that have been contaminated. The illness has an average 8-10 day incubation period (although it ranges from 2 to 21 days); CDC recommends monitoring exposed people for symptoms a complete 21 days. People are not contagious after exposure unless they develop symptoms.