Ebola Update: First Case in The United States

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The United States now has a confirmed case of Ebola, the first US appearance of this deadly virus. Thomas Eric Duncan is currently is in serious condition at the Dallas Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, after arriving in the United States from Liberia.

What is Ebola

Ebola epidemic information
Map and chart showing cases of Ebola updated as of September 30 MCT 2014

Ebola is a serious illness that, when untreated, can be extremely fatal. Ebola has been spreading quickly, infecting 7,178 people and has killing 3,338 in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Senegal and Nigeria, the World Health Organization says. Fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family are thought to be the natural Ebola virus hosts. Ebola is then introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals. Once the disease has hit the human population, Ebola is spread via direct contact through blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and with surfaces and materials (bedding, clothing) contaminated.

As Ebola can look like many other diseases during the two week incubation period, the CDC has been emphasizing the importance of asking for a patient’s travel history at hospitals around the country.

Ebola in the United States

Texas

Duncan’s family and those who have come in contact with the place he was staying in Dallas have been contained and the house is being heavily cleaned. Texas health officials have ordered those in contact to not leave their homes for a three-week period. These orders are permitted under the state’s health code, and violations can result in criminal prosecution or civil court proceedings. So far none of those who came in contact have showed symptoms.

Duncan is suspected to have contracted Ebola after he helped take an infected woman home from a hospital where she had been denied care. The woman, Marthalene Williams, was also a family friend of Duncan’s. According to the New York Times, four cases have been reported in Ms. William’s surrounding area, all seeming to be infected in a chain reaction started by Williams.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told Canadian public broadcaster CBC on Thursday that she would consult with lawyers to decide what to do with Duncan when he returns home, saying it was unpardonable that he left Liberia knowing that he exposed to the virus. Wilfred Smallwood, who says he’s a Duncan’s half-brother, said he doesn’t believe that Duncan knew he had Ebola when he left Liberia for the United States.

Duncan has been put in isolation at the Dallas Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital.

Washington, DC

Howard University Hospital in Washington has admitted a patient with symptoms that might be associated with Ebola. The patient recently traveled to Nigeria and presented with the symptoms upon their return. The patient is in stable condition.

U.S. Citizens in Africa

Ashoka Mukpo, 33, a freelance cameraman for NBC News, will return to the U.S. for treatment aboard a private charter plane after being diagnosed with Ebola in Monrovia. The cameraman is believed to be the fourth American stricken by the disease while in Liberia, others including Dr. Kent Brantly, Nancy Writebol and Dr. Rick Sacra who have all contracted the disease while working in the country. All three recovered after they were evacuated from Liberia and treated at hospitals in Atlanta and Omaha, Nebraska.

Aid Action in Africa

Impact of Ebola on children
Garmai Cyrus, an International Medical Corps counselor, works at the Ebola treatment unit in Liberia’s Bong Country. (Robyn Dixon/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

Ebola aid workers in Africa, specifically Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Senegal, and Guinea, have been asking for assistance from the global community in recent months as the outbreak has hit a new high. Doctors Without Borders has been in areas affected since the spring when the outbreak was confirmed in West Africa and currently has a total of 3,058. Countries like the US, UK, France, China and Cuba have started committing assets and personnel to the affected region but according to Doctors Without Borders Ebola information, very little has materialised in concrete action on the ground. There are aid teams in West Africa who are seeing critical gaps in the medical care, training of health staff, infection control, contact tracing, epidemiological surveillance, alert and referral systems, community education and mobilisation of the aid provided. The following video is from PBS Newshour called “What do health workers need to continue Ebola fight?”:

The Pentagon has promised to send more than 3,000 troops to help in the aid efforts, many of whom are helping build treatment unit. But the lack of supplies combined with the long process of building treatment unit means that these treatment units aren’t going up fast enough. An Ebola treatment unit requires quarantine rooms, chlorine shower stalls and larger-than-average bathrooms — due to the amount of Ebola patients who die in the bathroom, where they collapse after violent bouts of vomiting and diarrhea, and need to be removed, and there simply isn’t enough time.

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