Written by: Dr. Linda Van Etta, St. Luke's Infectious Disease Specialist
The West African nations of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone have been experiencing an Ebola outbreak since March 2014. In the past month, the number of cases and associated deaths has increased. It is estimated that by the end of November, these counties will have 10,000 cases each week. It will take many months to control this epidemic. It will be controlled only if other countries send additional healthcare personnel and equipment to help care for these patients as well as distribute an effective vaccine. Vaccine trials are starting in these countries now.
As long as the epidemic is uncontrolled in West Africa, we will continue to see persons infected with Ebola enter the United States. However, the numbers should be very small with the airport screening programs that have now been put in place. It is extremely unlikely that we will ever experience an Ebola epidemic in the U.S. because we have an excellent health care system with availability of isolation and advanced care for Ebola patients. Our hospitals are training to care for such patients.
St. Luke's has chosen to follow high level protection from the beginning of our planning. It is the protective equipment that the CDC has now changed their recommendations to at present. Therefore, we feel very confident that we can safely care for an Ebola patient. We have stockpiled protective equipment and are intensively training our staff.
At present the chance of any individual citizen in the U.S. contracting Ebola is extremely remote unless they choose to travel to West Africa, which is not advised. Since this virus kills over half of the persons who develop the disease it creates great fear and anxiety. Young children who emigrated with their families from West Africa months to years ago are being asked to leave their daycare setting or their school because of fear of Ebola. We know the incubation period for Ebola is only 21 days, so these children could not possibly be infected.
You should not fear Ebola in the U.S. You should be concerned about influenza, however, since it kills more than 25,000 U.S. residents each winter. So please get your flu shot this fall and don't be fearful of Ebola. It is not the first and will not be the last epidemic virus our world will battle, but working together we will eventually control this epidemic.