Ebola in America. Three terrifying words we hoped never to utter. But it was inevitable, considering the slow international response to containing this deadly virus in West Africa.
Americans should not panic. Unlike the inadequate health-care systems in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, our medical professionals know how to contain the virus and stop it quickly. There’s little chance this one isolated case will spread widely.
Ebola has always posed a global threat. Earlier this week, the World Health Organization predicted 20,000 cases in West Africa by Nov. 2, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said at the current rate of increase that number could reach 1.4 million by Jan. 20.
The disease has already killed more than 3,000 people, and thousands more are deathly sick. It has spread like wildfire through the West African nations of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
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In Sierra Leone and Liberia, one in seven people will soon be infected and 70 percent of those will die. Data from Guinea is so far unreliable.
It’s clear now the international community should have reacted more quickly when it became clear the virus was out of control and had devastated the already inadequate health-care systems of the poorest West Africa nations.
Finally, this week, President Obama dispatched 3,000 U.S. military personnel to set up a command center in Monrovia, Liberia, to coordinate a promised international relief effort. Military engineers will also build 17 new 100-bed treatment facilities and military medical professionals will be on the ground to train an additional 500 health-care workers.
The U.S. has committed about $750 million. Other nations have pledged more than $550 million and hundreds of fresh volunteers, including doctors and nurses.
So far, Ebola has not spread far beyond the three affected countries. If the international response can treat 70 percent to 80 percent of existing Ebola patients in the next several months, the outbreak will begin to decline.
Unlike an airborne virus, Ebola is transmitted only through intimate contact with the bodily fluids – vomit, diarrhea, blood, sweat or urine – of an infected person. People exposed to Ebola, but who have not yet become sick, cannot transmit the virus.
In Texas, medical professionals are closely monitoring 80 people who came in contact with the infected man in the Liberian neighborhood of north Dallas. They’ll isolate and treat any who become sick.
When deployed in previous, smaller African Ebola epidemics, these measures have effectively and quickly broken the chain of transmission. They’ll be needed on a much larger scale now.
We hope the U.S.-led relief effort will take better care of native medical workers. More than 40 indigenous doctors, nurses, drivers and hospital workers have become infected, and many of them have died. Not one was airlifted out for treatment as were infected western health-care workers.
The way to prevent a global outbreak of Ebola, including additional cases in America, is to stop it in West Africa. The international response is belated, but encouraging. We hope it came in time to prevent the massive suffering that an unchecked pandemic would cause.