Ebola Strikes US: Are We Prepared?

presbyterian hospitalThe first case of Ebola has been diagnosed in the U.S. and even though we have the highest standard of medical care in the world, internal government reports show that we are not prepared to deal with a potential pandemic.

According to CBS.com, officials with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have confirmed that a native of Liberia, who arrived in the U.S. on September 20 to visit relatives, began to exhibit symptoms of Ebola four days later. He did not seek medical attention until September 28 which means anyone he came in contact with during those four days could be infected with the same deadly hemorrhagic fever that has been savaging the population of West Africa since last May.

The CDC is now actively monitoring all the people who came in contact with the infected patient, who is in critical condition in a special isolation ward at Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. Because he was asymptomatic while en route to this country, the people who were on the plane with him need not worry about infection because this disease can only be spread through bodily fluids that are emitted after symptoms appear. The people who need to worry most are those who came in contact with him during that four or five day period after the symptoms appeared.

“There is no doubt in my mind, we will stop it here,” CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said in a press conference yesterday afternoon, and reassured that although Ebola is a “scary” disease, “we are stopping it in its tracks in this country.”

As a result, the city’s health department has been put on Level 2: High Readiness and the CDC is already issuing special instructions to health care workers.

Even U.S. funeral homes are being advised not to embalm or perform autopsy on patients who die from Ebola to avoid infection which can occur postmortem.

CDC logoThis first case of Ebola is heightening the already existing worries of healthcare professionals in the U.S. who believe the country’s preparedness for a pandemic has stagnated due to the tough economic times that gripped the nation since the terrorist and anthrax attacks of 2001.

Despite the positive outlook it is showing to the public, the CDC’s internal reports reveal concern about their ability to meet the kind of challenge being faced by the fragile health care systems of West Africa.

“CDC continues to work with reduced financial resources, which similarly affects state, local, and insular public health departments. … These losses make it difficult for state and local health departments to continue to expand their preparedness capabilities, instead forcing them to focus on maintaining their current capabilities,” the CDC warned in a report this year.

The Washington Times reports that in addition to losing $1 billion in congressional funds for public health emergencies, local health departments have shed 45,700 jobs since the 2008 financial crisis.

“The concerns, however, extend far beyond financial resources. The Department of Homeland Security inspector general issued a scathing report in September warning the department was woefully unprepared for a pandemic, with expired medicines and inadequate resources to effectively equip its top responders in the field,” the Times reports.

Other preparedness issues concern the nation’s porous borders where overworked Border Patrol agents are unable to properly screen immigrants for disease.

“The message from the panoply of reports is clear: Although the U.S. clearly made strides after 2001 on pandemic preparation, those gains have stagnated and in some cases begun to reverse even as the risks for an outbreak grow with global travel and determined terrorists,” the Times reports.

Dr. J. Scott Ries, vice president of Christian Medical & Dental Associations, who worked with Ebola survivor Dr. Kent Brantly, said those people who believed Ebola was too far away to affect them need to change their point of view.

“It’s here, like we predicted,” he said, “and it’s time to massively ramp up our efforts to address this.”

However, there’s no need to panic, he says. “While Ebola is highly infections, it’s not highly contagious” because transmission can only come about through contact with body fluids such as blood, sweat, urine or vomit.

Thanks to our country’s state-of-the-art isolation methods, once a patient has been quarantined the chances of spreading the disease are greatly diminished.

We also have more sanitary burial habits than the people of West Africa who personally prepare the bodies of their dead for burial.

But lawmakers are still calling for more vigilance now that Ebola is on U.S. soil.

“Communicable diseases do not stop at borders,” said Rep. Edward R. Royce, California Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. “While the likelihood of a major outbreak in the United States is still very unlikely, with this case, it is more clear than ever that the rapid spread of Ebola in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone presents a clear and present danger not only to West Africa, but the broader international community.”

Ohio Senator Rob Portman (R) also renewed his call for better screening of travelers at U.S. ports of entry.

“While I hope that this is an isolated case, today’s announcement serves as a reminder of the need for increased U.S. prevention efforts,” Mr. Portman said in a statement. “According to reports, the patient had recently travelled to West Africa and would have been a clear candidate for active screening. With this announcement, I hope the CDC will consider enacting elevated screening levels.”

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