Officials: No risk of Ebola outbreak in US

 

Federal health officials on Tuesday told Congress that there is little risk of a serious Ebola outbreak in the United States, even if a patient with the virus arrived undetected on U.S. soil. 

While warning lawmakers of the severity of the epidemic in West Africa, representatives from U.S. health agencies said the American medical system is well-equipped to care for anyone with hemorrhagic fever.

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It is "entirely conceivable" that an infected person could arrive in a major U.S. city and even "infect a person or two," said Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to a joint Senate hearing.

But "at that point, once it's recognized, the kinds of capabilities we have would make it almost impossible to have the kind of outbreak" seen in West Africa, he said.

A representative from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said the agency is working "quite closely" with healthcare providers to train them to spot signs of Ebola and to trigger the right isolation procedures if a case is suspected.

The U.S. healthcare system has effectively treated at least five patients with viruses similar to Ebola such as Marburg virus and Lassa fever, said Beth P. Bell, director of the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases.

"While this is certainly something to be taken quite seriously … most hospitals in the United States should be able to safely care for Ebola patients," Bell said.

"It's quite understandable why people would be concerned … [but] we've done a lot of work here in the United States with healthcare providers and citizens so that they know what to look for."

The remarks came as President Obama warned that the Ebola outbreak is "spiraling out of control" during a speech Tuesday at the CDC headquarters in Atlanta.

Polls have shown that the public is concerned that Ebola could spread to the United States. The virus is transmitted by bodily fluids, typically to victims' caregivers or family members, and kills roughly half of those infected by it.

The CDC has taken several steps to prepare for any Ebola cases that might travel to the United States, Bell said.

The agency has expanded its ability to test for the virus across its network of laboratories. CDC personnel are training U.S. and international travel officials on how to conduct screenings and spot symptoms.

Health officials emphasized that medical facilities in West Africa are decades behind those in the United States. Some clinics caring for Ebola patients do not have running water, soap or beds, Bell said.

The joint hearing was held by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on health spending.