The deadly outbreak of Ebola virus in West Africa is unlikely to spread outside of that region and into the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday (July 28).
“No Ebola cases have been reported in the United States and the likelihood of this outbreak spreading outside of West Africa is very low," CDC spokesperson Stephan Monroe, Ph.D., the deputy director at the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, said in a teleconference. "I want to underscore that Ebola poses little risk to the U.S. general population."
While the virus has little chance of spreading to the U.S., the CDC has deployed 12 staff members to the West African nations of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to help contain the outbreak that has infected 1,201 people and killed 672 people so far (making it the largest Ebola outbreak in history). These CDC members will not directly interact with any infected patients, but will manage databases and train teams to track down those who may have been exposed to symptomatic patients. The CDC expects to cycle in new staffers every 30 days until the virus is stopped. Along with this system, the CDC has issued a series of alerts to health workers and travel warnings to civilian travelers.
There still is a chance that the Ebola virus can spread to another continent -- particularly to Paris, France, which is the destination of about 10 percent of the flights leaving Conakry, Guinea, reports NPR.
To combat potential spread of Ebola, countries like Nigeria have begun screening passengers for symptoms if they fly into Lagos on international flights. Lagos, the most populous city in Nigeria, is the site of the country’s first recorded Ebola case.
The screenings "might involve temperature checks, it might involve people filling out questionnaires regarding symptoms and exposure. It might involve certain border crossings being closed to assure that people are moving between countries through patrols or health screening ports," said Dr. Martin Cetron, of the CDC's Division of Global Migration and Quarantine. “There's a whole variety, and I don't know exactly what each of the countries in the area are contemplating or currently engaging in.”
The Liberian government announced Monday that it was taking steps to stop most border crossings in order to contain the spread of the disease -- an uncommon move, according to Cetron.
But even if an infected person were to slip through the cracks and leave an outbreak country, the chances of an outbreak in the U.S. or Europe are very slim, according to infectious diseases expert Kathryn Jacobsen, an associate professor of epidemiology at George Mason University.
"Here in the United States, first responders and hospital staff all have access to gloves and other personal protective equipment, like gowns and face masks, that they can use to protect themselves from bloodborne infections," Jacobsen wrote in an email to HuffPost. "Most hospitals in the United States have special isolation units where patients with diseases like Ebola can be kept safely away from other patients, visitors, and staff."
In contrast, said Jacobsen, the West African countries where the Ebola virus has spread don't have the supplies or facilities needed for halting the disease. Because of this, many of the health workers, including two Americans working in Liberia, have contracted the virus.
The infected health workers' hygiene and care practices are unknown at this time, said the CDC, except that they were trained by Doctors Without Borders, an organization well-equipped to operate in places with substandard health care infrastructure. Family members who had been living with one of the infected health workers in Liberia returned to the U.S. before the health worker began exhibiting symptoms. Still, out of an abundance of caution, they are currently under a 21-day fever watch, but are not under quarantine at this time, according to the CDC.
There are several strains of the Ebola virus, but the one that is currently circulating in West Africa is the Zaire strain of the virus -- the most deadly strain. Beginning symptoms can include fever, head and muscle aches, diarrhea and vomiting -- in other words, symptoms that are similar to many more common infections like the flu. But Ebola virus disease can also cause a rash, red eyes, and bleeding from the eyes, ears, mouth, nose and rectum in some patients.
The virus can be passed via blood and other bodily fluids like sweat and urine, as well as objects like syringes that can be contaminated by an infected person. However, only a person exhibiting symptoms can pass on the virus to others.
-- with reporting by Neidin Hernandez and Roberto Perez.