September 2014 – HEALTH – Federal health-care officials, hospital administrators and emergency-care doctors are preparing for the first cases of Ebola here in the United States. Experts say it’s not a question of if, but rather when it will happen. The good news is that the public health infrastructure in the United States — from the epidemiologists at the Centers for Disease Control to the weekend physician at the local doc-in-a-box — has been mobilized for this very eventuality. Many hospitals, even those in many rural areas, are prepared with virus-proof protective gear and isolation units for sick patients. The bad news is that the disease continues to grow unabated in West Africa, and that containing the spread is getting tougher every day. “We will see cases,” said Alessandro Vespignani, a physics professor at Northeastern University who has developed a biological model of the worldwide spread of Ebola based on current infection rates, population trends and air traffic from the affected zone. “The good news from our modeling is the size of the outbreak is very limited. Even in the worse case, the size of the outbreak in the United States is just two or three individuals.” Vespignani’s model estimates probability of an infected Ebola patient — not an infected health care worker — showing up on a given day currently in the United States at 3 or 4 percent. That number jumps to 20 percent by the end of October.
On Sunday, an American health-care worker who was exposed to the Ebola virus was flown to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., according to the CDC. As the U.S. ramps up its response to Ebola, including sending 3,000 troops to help build hospitals and train local workers, it’s likely that more will be following soon. But more worrisome is someone who shows signs of fever, nausea, perhaps bleeding, who traveled to the area, and who may have come in close physical contact with a carrier of Ebola. That scenario played out recently in Alabama, according to David Pigott, a doctor at the University of Alabama-Birmingham department of emergency medicine and member of the American College of Emergency Physicians. In mid-August, a man who had recently returned from West Africa showed up at an emergency room in Tuscaloosa, Ala., where he was quarantined in a special isolation unit, Pigott said. “We had one physician with the kind of gear you see on TV, he was all garbed up in a space shield, gown boots, everything to go and evaluate the guy,” Pigott said. “Turns out he had malaria.” Pigott believes that news of the epidemic’s spread from Liberia and Sierra Leone to neighboring Guinea and Nigeria has put most, if not all, U.S. health workers on notice. Federal health officials say they are planning for scenarios as well, such as an airline passenger showing signs of Ebola while flying to a U.S. airport, for example, or a U.S. resident who stays home after getting sick instead of going to a local hospital. –Discovery News