Even though the Ebola outbreak poses no substantial risk to the United States, Albert White, MD, area health officer for the Alabama Department of Public Health, said he has received calls from local health-care providers about the deadly disease.
“I have gotten a lot of questions in the last several weeks about Ebola,” he said.
White provided an update on the Ebola outbreak and related health information during a recent lecture hosted by the College of Community Health sciences at The University of Alabama and DCH Health System. The lecture for health professionals was held August 18 at DCH Regional Medical Center in Tuscaloosa. White is also medical director of Hospital Epidemiology for DCH Health System.
The Ebola outbreak originated in West Africa in March of this year and to date has claimed more than 1,400 lives and infected more than 2,000 people. Ebola has been fatal in 55 percent to 60 percent of cases reported in the current outbreak.
The outbreak has been declared a public health emergency “because people travel so much and so easily these days,” White said.
Ebola is spread by direct contact with bodily fluids, not through the air, food or water, and it is not contagious until symptoms appear, White said. The incubation period is two to 21 days. Symptoms include fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, sore throat, weakness, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, skin rash, red eyes, and internal and external bleeding. There is no proven treatment for Ebola.
Countries hardest hit by the Ebola outbreak in West Africa are Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and White’s native Liberia, where he still has family and friends. Liberia has recorded the highest number of cases and deaths of the four countries, more than 400.
White says Liberia is working to contain the outbreak and has closed its borders, restricted travel and has kept open only essential government offices. During the country’s recent Independence Day celebration, the words EBOLA IS REAL were printed on HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY signs.
White says difficulty in controlling the disease in West Africa is a result of a poor healthcare infrastructure that has deteriorated after years of civil war, a mistrust of the system and cultural habits regarding the dead and burial practices. People can become infected with Ebola by unprotected handling of contaminated corpses, White said.
The risk of Ebola spreading to the United States is very small, he said. “In the United States, we have the capability to isolate and do the testing we need to do to keep everyone safe.” In addition, travelers from West Africa are being screened prior to travel, and some commercial airlines have stopped their flights to the region.
White encouraged audience members to become familiar with information about Ebola that is contained on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website (http://www.cdc.gov).