As concern mounts over Ebola, US officials in charge of dealing with the infectious disease have one basic message meant to address public fears:
"The bottom line here is we know how to stop it,” says Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, Dr. Frieden explained his confidence: “It's not going to spread widely in the US, for two basic reasons. We can do infection control in hospitals, and we can do public health interventions that can stop it in its tracks. We do that by identifying every possible contact, monitoring them for 21 days and if they get any symptoms, isolating and monitoring them as well."
Anthony Fauci, infectious disease chief at the National Institutes of Health, echoes that message.
“Because of our healthcare system and our ability to do the contact tracing and isolation we won’t have an outbreak,” Dr. Fauci said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“West Africa is not the United States,” he said. “Unfortunately, those people there, because of the weaknesses of their health system, are having an outbreak. It could be we see another case, but we won’t have an outbreak.”
So far, there has been just one confirmed case of Ebola in the United States: Thomas Eric Duncan in Dallas, who arrived in the US from Liberia Sept. 20. Mr. Duncan is now in critical condition, Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas said on Saturday. He had previously been described as being in serious condition.
Those who had been in direct contact with Duncan have been quarantined for monitoring and – if necessary – treatment.
At a press conference Saturday, CDC Director Frieden said the agency had received "well over 100 inquiries of possible patients.”
“We’ve assessed every one of those with local health departments and hospitals, and just this one patient has tested positive," he said. "We expect that we will see more rumors, or concerns, or possibilities of cases. Until there is a positive laboratory test, that is what they are – rumors and concerns.”
Initial handling of the Duncan case in Dallas was flawed, officials concede.
After feeling ill and going to the hospital, Duncan was allowed to return to the apartment where he lived with relatives. Then after he returned to the hospital with symptoms that were diagnosed as Ebola, people and infected materials were isolated in the apartment for more than a week before the space could be cleared and disinfected.
“It’s a teachable moment, as we say,” Dr. Frieden said at a press conference last week.
On Saturday, two passengers – a man traveling with his daughter – were removed from a United Airlines flight from Brussels when it arrived in Newark, NJ. The man, who had begun his travel in West Africa, became ill on the flight, exhibiting Ebola-like symptoms.
Medical authorities later reported that the man did not have the disease.
“After an examination by physicians at University Hospital, the symptoms of one individual were found to be consistent with another, minor treatable condition unrelated to Ebola,” said Tiffany Smith, a spokeswoman for Newark’s University Hospital, where the man was tested.
Meanwhile, a Massachusetts doctor and missionary who was successfully treated for Ebola he contracted in Africa is back in the hospital with what appears to be a respiratory infection, but doctors don't suspect a recurrence of the virus, the AP reports.
UMass Memorial Medical Center said in a statement that Dr. Richard Sacra was hospitalized Saturday for observation and is in stable condition.
Sacra will remain in isolation until doctors have confirmation from tests by the CDC that he is not infected with the virus, the hospital said. Doctors expect to know with certainty by late Monday.
"We are isolating Dr. Sacra to be cautious pending final confirmation of his illness," said Dr. Robert Finberg, who is heading Sacra's medical team. "We think it is highly unlikely that he has Ebola."
He spent much of the last two decades in Liberia, working with a missionary group. He also works at Family Health Center of Worcester in Massachusetts.