The first confirmed case of a traveler coming to the United States with an Ebola infection has been confirmed in Dallas. Cue the national freakout about the coming epidemic and all the blame for Obama and all that nonsense. But not so fast. My old friend Tara Smith, a leading infectious disease specialist, tells everyone to relax.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced on Tuesday evening that a patient undergoing treatment in the United States does, indeed, have the Ebola virus. Nearly two weeks ago, the traveler left Liberia, one of the West African countries at the center of the current Ebola outbreak, and flew back to Texas – asymptomatic at that point. This is key, because Ebola spreads when a person is exhibiting symptoms. At the time of that flight, the patient was not ill. And when the patient later reported to a hospital in Dallas, doctors there quickly suspected it was Ebola and put the patient into isolation. Those who came into contact since the patient’s arrival are being traced as a precaution and will be watched for symptoms for three weeks – the incubation period of the virus. Odds are good those contacts do not include you, and your odds of dying of Ebola in the US are lower than your chances of dying on a rollercoaster.
It’s not out of the realm of possibility that we’ll see other cases here in the US, but, seriously: relax. We got this…
Of course, we’ve also brought medical workers home to the US for Ebola treatment, at Emory near CDC headquarters in Atlanta, and in Nebraska, where a physician was released on Thursday and is doing just fine, thanks. Despite the initial public outcry, no medical staff or other hospital workers have become ill after caring for these patients, and no one else in their communities has been put at risk. The Ebola virus is easily controlled with the prevention measures and healthcare infrastructure we have in developed countries like the US.
Be concerned for those in the affected areas of West Africa and Central Africa, but, really: do not lose sleep about the potential for Ebola to spread across the US. It’s not going to.
Ebola has become an epidemic in West Africa because they lack the medical infrastructure that we have in the United States. If you’re traveling to Dallas or through the airport there, you have far more to fear from getting into an accident in the taxi on the way there than you do from Ebola.