The world is watching and waiting in fear for the deadly Ebola outbreak, that has so far been contained in four West African countries, to spread to other continents. With hundreds of new cases and deaths being reported every couple of days (between Aug. 14 and 16, there were 113 new cases and 84 deaths), the possibility of someone in the area taking the virus on a plane with them is very real. Just this week, two U.S. patients were put in isolation as they awaited test results for Ebola.
One of the patients, a 30-year-old woman, was being held at University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque after returning earlier this month from Sierra Leone, one of the four countries, where she worked as a teacher. She went in for testing after experiencing symptoms often associated with the virus, including fever, sore throat, body aches, and headaches, the Albuquerque Journal reported. Hospital officials said she was in stable condition.
“People who have to go to UNM Hospital should keep their appointments and go there with full confidence that they will be safe,” New Mexico Department of Health Secretary Retta Ward said in a press release. In an earlier release, she said that the Department of Health was working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in “following the appropriate protocols to ensure other patients and health care workers are safe.” The release said that the woman was undergoing testing “out of an abundance of caution.”
The second potential Ebola case comes out of Sacramento, Calif., where an unidentified patient, whose mode of transmission or potential symptoms weren’t disclosed, was admitted to Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Medical Center. “In order to protect our patients, staff, and physicians, even though infection with the virus is unconfirmed, we are taking the actions recommended by the CDC as a precaution, just as we do for other patients with a suspected infectious disease,” said Dr. Stephen Parodi, an infectious disease specialist at Kaiser Permanente North Carolina, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “This includes isolation of the patient in a specially equipped negative pressure room and the use of personal protective equipment by trained staff.”
News of these possible infections, along with the Ebola scare from a man in New York, may cause the public to pass these cases off as fear mongering, but the CDC has specific protocol hospitals must follow as precautionary measures. In its “Interim Guidance for Managing Patients with Suspected Viral Hemorrhagic Fever in U.S. Hospitals,” it notes that most potential cases of Ebola may actually be other infectious diseases with similar symptoms, such as common respiratory viruses, or endemic infections like malaria or typhoid fever. Nevertheless, health care providers are advised to take steps as if the patient has Ebola. Though only a few scares have made headlines, there have actually been 68 scares over the past three weeks.
Vials of both patients’ blood are being sent to the CDC’s headquarters in Atlanta where they’ll be tested. Officials from both states expect results to be available within a week. Although Ebola has been contained in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria, there have been scares in other parts of the world, too, including in Germany, Spain, and Vietnam. Within the four African countries, 2,240 people have been infected by Ebola as of Aug. 16, of whom 1,229 have died, according to the World Health Organization.