Ebola in North America: Why you shouldn't panic
Josh Elliott, CTVNews.ca
Published Tuesday, September 30, 2014 10:10PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, October 1, 2014 7:19AM EDT
Health officials are urging people not to panic after the first diagnosed case of Ebola outside of Africa was confirmed at a Texas hospital Tuesday.
Dr. Tom Frieden, of the U.S. Center for Disease Control, confirmed the diagnosis at a news conference Tuesday, but emphasized calm in his address to the public.
While Ebola has caused thousands of deaths in West Africa, experts say North America is better-equipped and better-prepared to deal with the virus.
Could Ebola do in North America what it's done in West Africa?
"North America is not West Africa," Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins said Tuesday.
Hoskins and other provincial health ministers are meeting in Banff, Alta., this to discuss a range of health-care issues. Soon after news of the U.S. case broke, they sought to reassure the public that they are well-prepared for the virus. "We have extremely effective infection control measures in place," Hoskins said.
Infectious disease expert Dr. Neil Rau says Ebola has run rampant in West Africa because countries there lack proper medical facilities and protocols to deal with the virus. "Their system is overwhelmed," Rau told CTV News Channel on Tuesday. He said hospitals in Sierra Leone and Liberia have been turning away patients because they're full, and those patients have gone home to infect others in their households.
"It's a very different type of situation there that's letting the virus run wild," Rau said.
But North America has the training, technology and hospital space to handle Ebola, he said.
How does Ebola spread?
CDC’s Frieden stressed Tuesday that Ebola is not an airborne disease. He also emphasized that individuals must be sick with the virus in order to spread it.
"Ebola does not spread from someone who doesn't have fever and other symptoms," Frieden said.
Ebola spreads through contact with human bodily fluids, including blood, sweat, saliva, feces and vomit. It can take up to three weeks to manifest in an infected person, but that person does not become contagious until he or she shows symptoms. Even then, the virus must be spread through contact.
"It's not actually that easy to spread," Rau said. "It's very difficult to actually get it without being a household member or a health-care worker in contact."
Could the Texas Ebola patient have infected others?
The unidentified Ebola patient in Texas had recently returned to the United States after spending time in Liberia. Though the patient came back by plane, Rau says others on the plane are unlikely to have contracted the virus.
"You've got to be sick," Rau said, adding that someone would have to be "one death's door" to infect a plane full of people.
Rau said the patient would have become infectious a few days ago, when symptoms and fever began to appear. The patient in question was sent home from hospital after displaying initial symptoms, but was put into quarantine two days later when those symptoms worsened.
The CDC said Tuesday that it is tracking the Ebola patient's contacts to follow up on other possible cases.
What is Canada doing to prepare for Ebola?
Dr. Gregory Taylor, Canada's Chief Public Health Officer, says the country is ready to meet the threat of Ebola.
"Canadian hospitals have infection control systems and procedures in place that are designed to limit the spread of infection and protect health care workers," Taylor said in a statement on Tuesday. "To support these systems, the Public Health Agency has a series of infection control guidelines that are shared with the provinces and territories."
The Public Health Agency of Canada says it monitors the country's borders at all times for signs of Ebola. It also recommends against non-essential travel to West African countries affected by the virus.
Rau said Canada is even better-prepared than the United States for a case of Ebola. He pointed to the Ebola false alarm in Brampton, Ont., earlier this summer as evidence of the country's readiness.
Where the Dallas hospital sent its Ebola patient home for two days before initiating a quarantine, Canada put its potential Ebola patient in isolation right away.
"We actually took the precaution," Rau said.
How much of a threat is Ebola?
Rau said Canada and the United States are unlikely to face a full-scale outbreak like the one in West Africa.
Instead, it's probable we'll see one-off "importation" cases in individuals who arrive by plane. "A handful of people… might potentially be at risk at the end of the day," Rau said.
However, importation cases will remain a risk so long as West Africa continues to struggle with Ebola, Rau said. "If we can't bring it under control there, then we run the risk of these importations."
Rau said individuals infected with the virus in North America get the very best care, and have a much better survival rate when compared to Ebola patients in West Africa. "We know so much about this virus already," he said. "I think the genie's in the bottle this time."