Why You Shouldn't Freak Out About the First U.S. Ebola Patient

Illustration for article titled Why You Shouldn't Freak Out About the First U.S. Ebola Patient

Today, the CDC confirmed the first case of Ebola diagnosed in the U.S.: a man who was traveling in Liberia and is now at a hospital in Dallas. Should you panic about Ebola now? Nope, and here's why.


The bottom line is that Ebola spreads only through the direct contact with bodily fluids—making it a whole lot harder to spread than the airborne common flu. We also know exactly how to stop Ebola; the crisis in Africa has gotten so bad due to lack of healthcare infrastructure. "I have no doubt we will control this case of Ebola so it does not spread widely," CDC director Tom Frieden said in a press conference this afternoon.

The CDC also gave some details about the patient, who was presumably exposed to the virus in Liberia. He didn't have any symptoms when he arrived in the U.S. on September 20. He got sick four days later and was admitted to the Texas hospital on Sunday, where he was placed in isolation. Today, a CDC lab confirmed he was positive for Ebola.

The patient will stay at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas rather than be moved to one of then nation's four high-level containment units. This decision actually makes a lot of sense—any modern hospital is perfectly well equipped to deal with diseases that transmit only through bodily fluids. Moving a patient, on the other hand, creates a whole other set of risks.

In the meantime, the CDC is also identifying anyone who may have been in contact with the patient after he got sick. (Ebola is not contagious until you already have symptoms.) This circle of people will be closely monitored for 21 days, the maximum length of Ebola's incubation period.

There's been plenty of terrifying news about Ebola from Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, where the outbreak is still raging. But there's been a glimmer good news out of Africa, too. Just yesterday, the CDC released a report showing that Ebola had been successfully contained in Nigeria and Senegal. In each of these two countries, which have relatively intact healthcare infrastructures, a sick patient traveling from an infected area was quickly identified and isolated. Needless to say, the U.S. has the same healthcare resources—and more.


When two American Ebola patients were airlifted from Africa in August, we went into depth about why Ebola was unlikely to spread in U.S. If you're still feeling uncertain, read on.

Top image: Inside an isolation ward where another Ebola patient was transported after becoming ill in Africa. Credit: University of Nebraska Medical Center