Ebola: First Case Diagnosed in U.s. Hits Home

By Peter Swann, M.D., Associate Medical Director, WorkCare

So…the first case of Ebola has finally been diagnosed on U.S. soil.

On Sept. 20, a traveler from Liberia arrived by commercial airline in Dallas to visit family and friends. He was screened in Liberia before boarding the plane, had no symptoms and felt well upon arrival: That’s important because the Ebola virus can’t be transmitted until after symptoms develop.

On Sept. 24 he began to feel sick. He went to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas, where he reportedly was prescribed antibiotics and sent home. On Sept. 28 he returned to the hospital by ambulance and was placed in strict isolation in serious condition.

Public health officials are tracing all contacts he had in the U.S. since becoming ill. A number of them have already been identified, quarantined and are being observed for development of symptoms.

Let’s face it, Ebola is a scary disease. It falls in a class of viral diseases called “hemorrhagic fevers,” which means part of the severe illness it produces may include bleeding from various body surfaces.

In Africa where the Ebola epidemic is occurring, the medical system often struggles to deliver even basic medical care. The most-affected countries are ill-equipped to handle the strict isolation and critical care required by Ebola patients. Mortality rates have been high.

However, despite its alarming characteristics, Ebola is only considered “moderately” contagious, and with proper control measures (capabilities we have pretty much everywhere in the U.S.), transmission should be relatively easy to contain.

Consider the following:

  1. The virus is not contagious until symptoms are present.
  2. Early symptoms of Ebola include sudden fever, fatigue and headache.
  3. Symptoms may appear anywhere from two to 21 days after exposure.
  4. Ebola is only spread through close contact with blood or body fluids.
  5. Most people in Africa who have become infected with Ebola lived with or cared for an ill patient.
  6. Chlorine disinfection, heat, direct sunlight, soaps and detergents can kill the Ebola virus.

In short, unlike colds and the flu, Ebola is not easily transmitted from person to person. In the U.S. and other countries with good public health systems, robust infection control and critical care capabilities, public health experts are confident that cases like the one in Dallas will be quickly addressed and contained.

In Africa, however, it’s a much different story, as I will explain in a subsequent post.


New on our education page! WorkCare Fact Sheet: Understanding and Controlling Ebola Exposure Risk in the Workplace

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Ebola website
World Health Organization Ebola website


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