As news of the Ebola epidemic that continues to affect thousands in West Africa spreads, and health officials in Dallas, Texas work to contain the one confirmed travel-associated case in the United States, the Stanislaus County Public Health Department wants to reassure area residents that they are closely monitoring the situation.
“We have been working with our local hospitals, emergency medical services, and clinic systems to keep them informed regarding preparedness and response measures,” said Dr. John Walker, Stanislaus County public health officer.
The 2014 Ebola epidemic is the largest in history, affecting multiple countries in West Africa. As of Oct. 3, there have been 7,492 reported cases of Ebola in West Africa and 3,439 deaths. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, in Central Africa, has also reported cases of Ebola. These cases are not related to the ongoing outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.
The West Africa outbreak was first detected last spring and confirmed by the World Health Organization. Fruit bats are believed to be the natural hosts of Ebola virus. The virus is transmitted from wildlife to people through contact with infected fruit bats, or through intermediate hosts, such as monkeys, apes, or pigs that have themselves become infected through contact with bat saliva or feces.
People may then become infected through contact with infected animals, either in the process of slaughtering or through consumption of blood, milk, or raw or undercooked meat.
The virus is then passed from person to person through direct contact with the blood, secretions or other bodily fluids of infected persons, or from contact with contaminated needles or other equipment in the environment.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first case of Ebola in the United States on Sept. 30. This person had traveled to Dallas, Texas from West Africa. The patient did not have symptoms when leaving West Africa, according to the CDC, but developed symptoms approximately five days after arriving in the United States.
The person sought medical care at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas after developing symptoms consistent with Ebola. Based on the person’s travel history and symptoms, CDC recommended testing for Ebola. Dallas public health officials have begun identifying close contacts of the person for further daily monitoring for 21 days after exposure.
As of Tuesday, there were 10 people identified as having come into contact with the Texas Ebola patient and 38 possible contacts.
If a person has travelled to an affected country and develops a fever within three weeks of their return, they should contact their health care provider, let them know of their travel history, and who they may have come into contact with so appropriate case tracking can be performed. CDC officials have also advised travelers to avoid all non-essential travel to West African countries.
While cases of Ebola continue to grow, health organizations are hoping to find a vaccine for the virus and treatment therapies.
The National Institutes of Health began initial human testing of an investigational vaccine to prevent Ebola in early September and is working with a company to develop an antiviral drug to treat Ebola. The U.S. Department of Defense has funded two companies that are developing drug therapies for Ebola and is working with another company to develop an Ebola vaccine.
The U.S. public health and medical systems have had prior experience with sporadic cases of diseases such as Ebola. In the past decade, the United States had five imported cases of Viral Hemorrhagic Fever, diseases similar to Ebola (1 Marburg, 4 Lassa).