West Africa is experiencing the deadliest Ebola virus outbreak in history. Unlike past occurrences, the virus is now spreading from rural regions to big cities. It has now spread to Lagos, Nigeria, the largest city in the area.
American health care workers in Liberia have contracted the virus. The first American to die from Ebola, Patrick Sawyer, worked in the Liberian Ministry of Finance. He traveled to Nigeria for a conference when he fell ill, and was also the first recorded Ebola victim in that country.
Will the Ebola Virus Spread to America?
Public health experts do say that the virus will probably spread to other parts of the world, and that could include the U.S.
Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, Professor of Epidemiology at Columbia University, has said that a U.S. infection is possible, but that a widespread American outbreak is improbable:
Is it possible that somebody could be infected in one of these countries and fly to the U.S.? It is certainly possible. Given our health care system, it’s unlikely that we would have widespread disease as a result. We would be on top of it, and we would be able to contain it. Our health care system affords people access to gloves and gowns and personal protective equipment. I don’t think there’s reason for panic that we’re going to be hit with an outbreak of Ebola.
The CDC’s official opinion is that Ebola poses ‘little risk to the U.S. general population’. However, they are advising U.S. healthcare workers to isolate sick patients with travel history to or from high-risk areas.
Stopping the Spread of Ebola
In this age of international travel, the spread of disease and viruses via airplanes is not news. Sawyer, the first American to die from Ebola in Nigeria, had a wife and children who live in Minnesota. He was planning to visit his family next month.
Since Sawyer’s death, airports in West Africa have tightened screening procedures in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus. Liberia closed most of its borders last weekend.
First Stop: Paris
Health experts hope that the virus doesn’t travel outside of the African continent, but if it does, they expect its first stop might be Paris. The city of Conakry, Guinea, which was hit hard by this Ebola outbreak, is home to an international airport. Ten percent of the flights leaving the Conakry airport go to Paris, France.
Flight and airport crew are on high alert. Last Friday, medical workers met an Air France flight coming from Conakry after flight attendants found evidence of vomit in one of the airplane bathrooms. No one showed signs of the fever.
The Good News?
Ebola doesn’t spread through the air like the flu. Instead, it requires close contact with bodily fluids, like vomit, blood, or fecal matter.