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White House works to stem American public's fear of Ebola (+video)

The White House sought to reassure the public Friday that the health care system is able to stop the spread of the disease in the US, after public confidence was shaken by missteps regarding the case in Dallas.

The White House may think it needs to fight fear of Ebola in the United States as much as the disease itself.

That’s one impression left by a wide-ranging Friday afternoon White House press conference in which an array of top government officials attempted to reassure the public about the ability of the nation’s health care system to stop the West African Ebola epidemic from reaching US shores.

“We’re having to get this information out because there is a lot of fear [about the disease],” said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.

Ebola has spread in Liberia and other hard-hit West African nations because the health care infrastructure in the region is not nearly large or skilled enough to handle the problem, said US officials. They insisted that was far from the case in the US.

“We have the public health system and the public health care providers in place to control this disease,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell.

The methods needed to corral Ebola are well known, said Burwell. They involve identification of individual cases, immediate isolation and treatment of those patients, and then a meticulous tracing of all contacts that patient had with others.

Public confidence in US anti-Ebola efforts has been shaken by missteps in the one case of the disease confirmed so far, in Dallas.

The patient in question, Thomas Eric Duncan, was initially sent away from a hospital with only basic medication, though he told health care workers he had recently arrived from the Ebola zone. After he was hospitalized, the apartment in which he had been staying was not immediately decontaminated, as authorities struggled to find a contractor willing to do the work.

“There were things in Dallas that did not go as they should,” said Dr. Fauci at the White House press conference. “But the fundamental core [of the
containment effort], contact tracing, is now going on.”

Health officials in Dallas have now narrowed their focus to about 50 people in the US who may have had contact with Mr. Duncan after he became ill. Ten are considered to be at high risk and are being checked daily for symptoms, according to a Reuters report.

Officials did not confirm any new cases of Ebola, despite reports that a patient has entered Howard University Hospital in Washington with Ebola-like symptoms. They called that a “potential case” that has yet to be confirmed by tests.

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