Ebola Virus: Not a Purely African Problem

An Ebola-infected person has landed on U.S. soil. The deadly virus can be transmitted to all corners of the world.

Ebola is no longer an entirely African problem, as the first case of the deadly disease to be diagnosed outside the continent has occurred in the United States. The patient arrived in America from Liberia 10 days ago. On Wednesday, the passenger was proven beyond doubt to have contracted Ebola, as Thomas Frieden, head of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), announced. The man developed symptoms only after arriving in the U.S. and visited a hospital in Dallas, Texas, where he was immediately quarantined.

As the Liberian government confirmed on Wednesday, the man did not have a fever and was not showing any symptoms when he departed the country on Sept. 19. This means that he was not contagious. The authorities in Texas have, however, investigated a further suspected case. “There may be another case that is a close associate with this particular patient,” stated Zachary Thompson, director of Dallas County Health and Human Services, in an interview with local television broadcaster WFAA. The situation is reported to be serious, yet the danger of infection is limited to “specific family members and close friends.”

Initially, the CDC could not confirm this suspected case. According to CDC spokesperson Tom Skinner, efforts will be made to locate the people with whom the Ebola patient had had contact before checking into the hospital. The three emergency medical technicians (EMTs) who brought the infected man to the hospital have, according to the city of Dallas, tested negative for the virus.

Ebola is highly contagious, and there is currently no known vaccine or tried-and-tested method of treatment. More than 3,000 people in West Africa have already died of the disease. The number of cases currently stands at more than 6,500 and World Health Organization (WHO) estimations suggest that the number of those infected could rise to the tens of thousands within only a few months. The number of unreported cases is already high, but the chance of surviving the infection is not. However, in Guinea the infection rate is steady, and Nigeria is free of Ebola. This indicates that even in Africa, it is possible to control the disease.

Mr. Frieden did not rule out the probability that the patient could have infected others on U.S. soil with the deadly disease. All those in the United States with whom the infected man has made contact — these are mostly thought to be members of his family — will be sought out and monitored. Various U.S. media outlets have reported that three EMTs and numerous members of staff in the hospital’s ER have been placed under observation because they had contact with the patient.

From Africa to the Entire World

As symptoms do not present themselves until a few days after infection, those infected with Ebola can board an airplane and journey to other continents, particularly in the early stages of the disease. Once it has broken out, the illness can even be detected by digitally controlled temperature gauges in airports.

This April, German virologists had all but ruled out the possibility that the illness could encroach onto other continents. This was reported to be because patients become ill very quickly and are unfit to travel. In the case of the Ebola victim who traveled to the U.S., the German Federal Chamber of Physicians considered the danger of transfer to other passengers on the airplane “to have been very low,” as long as the disease was still in its 21-day incubation period. According to Jonas Schmidt-Chasanit, head of the virus diagnostics division of the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg, Germany, the patient in Texas is reported not to have been ill at the time of the flight, meaning the risk that other passengers could have caught the disease was “zero.” The other passengers could only have been infected if the patient had had a fever or been showing other symptoms.

In any event, Brussels Airlines has begun to take precautions. The Belgian airline continues to fly to Ebola-affected Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone; however, the flight attendants must now wear plastic gloves when serving food. Medicine and technical equipment taken to the Ebola-affected countries on behalf of the World Health Organization are often found on board the aircraft.

It was revealed on Wednesday evening that the infected man flew from Liberia to Texas via Brussels. It is reported that he was not displaying any symptoms of the illness at the point of take-off. Now, however, he is in critical condition.

President Obama Intervenes

United States President Barack Obama has informed himself comprehensively on the Ebola case in Texas. He had already warned of an uncontrolled spread of the virus and demanded worldwide countermeasures. He discussed the relevant quarantine measures with the CDC. Mr. Frieden ensured the president that the United States was prepared for Ebola cases and the danger could be confronted “safely and efficiently.”

Other countries are also on alert. In Saudi Arabia, the fear is that Ebola-infected pilgrims would enter the country for Hajj and spread the virus. Thousands of West Africans from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia who wish to take part in the Hajj will be refused entry into the country.

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