Wednesday, October 1, 2014

First U.S. Ebola Case

A man who traveled to the U.S. from Liberia via Europe is now the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola while within the U.S. At least one of the major news services is giving this one "event" continuous coverage all day, which of course raises our fear level; it makes it sound like this one case of Ebola could lead to an epidemic in this country.

Nothing could be further from the truth. According to the CDC, Ebola is transmitted primarily in bodily fluids such as urine, saliva, or blood. In addition, Ebola patients can only infect others when they are actually sick - not before and not after. The patient in question didn't feel sick until several days after he arrived in the U.S. And four days after he began to feel sick, he was isolated in a hospital prepared to deal with diseases such as this. That means, for example, that he did not infect anyone on his incoming transatlantic flight, and he's probably not going to infect anyone else after the time he was hospitalized. At most, he could have infected some of the people with whom he had close contact in the four days during which he felt sick before he was hospitalized.

Public health officials certainly have their hands full finding all the people with whom the Ebola patient had direct contact, and monitoring them for 21 days. Surveillance is tedious, but it works. So relax; at least one expert doesn't think an Ebola epidemic is likely in this country. Ebola is just not transmitted easily enough.

Sensationalism sells. But the news services should dial back their continuous coverage of what is probably a non-event.

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