Ebola Hits the U.S.

We now know that the first case of the Ebola virus has officially hit the United States. A man, Thomas Eric Duncan, was traveling from Liberia, a country in West Africa bordered by Sierra Leone, and arrived in the United States on September 19, 2014. 

Duncan is a 42 year old Liberian citizen who was traveling to the U.S. to see relatives. He was working with a pregnant woman who was infected with Ebola while in Liberia prior to leaving West Africa, and was known to have direct contact with her. The New York Times reported sources relayed that Duncan carried the woman to a Liberian hospital, which was unable to care for her, and she later died. 

Duncan is the first man in the United States known to have carried Ebola from Africa. He flew for 28 hours on a Brussels Airlines jet that originated in Monrovia Liberia. He was screened for Ebola, but showed no signs of the disease. He first arrived at the Belgian capital, where he had a seven hour layover, and then got on United Flight 951 going to Dulles International Airport in Virginia. After a three hour layover, a third plane, flight 822, flew Duncan to Dallas, Fort Worth, Texas. 

Six days passed before Duncan sought medical treatment at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, Texas. He was complaining of abdominal pain and had a low-grade fever. The Ebola sufferer was given basic blood tests, but because he was not exhibiting symptoms specific to Ebola, he was not tested for the disease. He told a nurse that he had traveled from Africa, but was not given any special treatment. Information about his travels may not have been communicated effectively to the medical team that was overseeing his care. 

Duncan was initially sent home with antibiotics, but he returned to the hospital  three days later when his symptoms did not subside. Upon his return, he was admitted to the hospital and put into isolation. Eighteen people, including five children, came into contact with Duncan in his Texas apartment complex. The five children who came into contact with Duncan attend four separate schools. These individuals, along with hospital staff and patients, are being monitored for symptoms of the Ebola virus.  

It is unknown how many people Duncan had contact with during his travels from Africa. He had multiple layovers in large airports, contact with family and friends, hospital staff, and others at the height of his illness. 

The curent outbreak of Ebola involves the Zaire ebolavirus or ZEBOV. It is not always apparent upon initial infection, and, in early stages, Ebola can resemble a respiratory infection such as the cold, or a mild flu. Ebola can incubate in the body six days to three weeks before becoming apparent, so there is some possibility the infection has already spread. Ebola works by suppressing immune system function, so individuals with already weakened immune systems are at a higher risk of infection and serious complications, however, it is known to infect otherwise healthy individuals as well.

Some of the symptoms of Ebola include: 

  • Non-specific flu-like symptoms
  • Sudden onset of stomach pain, diarreah, vomiting, fever and muscle pain
  • Bleeding from an orifice or rash
According to Dr. Mercola, when infection takes hold, more serious symptoms such as brain swelling, coagulation or problems with blood clotting, and secondary bacterial infections may occur. A patient may begin to hemmorage four or five days after infection, and bleed from the throat, lips, lungs, and/or vagina. Death may occur when these symptoms are followed by bleeding from vomiting blood and multi-organ failure. 

Although Ebola was initially not thought to be airborne, at least one study has shown that pigs and monkeys kept in separate cages, and with no direct contact, did pass the virus. Ebola is thought to be transmitted through direct contact, but also in large droplets that can be suspended in the air for short periods. 

Live Link suggests that people be prepared for an outbreak in their country by obtaining passports and having a plan for evacuation if necessary. Know where you will go, and what you will take with you if you need to leave quickly. In addition, it might be useful to obtain medical facemasks in case of an outbreak to protect you and your family from Ebola infection. 

Officials are telling people in the U.S. not to panic, however, preparedness is important for avoiding any potential disease outbreak. Take all of the normal precautions including avoiding large crowds, keeping your hands away from your face, and washing hands frequently. In addition, avoid contact with people who have obvious signs of illness. If you develop signs of Ebola, call a hospital to find out their procedures for admission. 

You can get more information from the Centers for Disease Control on the Ebola virus.