CDC update on Ebola

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have taken the unusual step of revamping their main website in response to the significant outbreak of Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever in central Africa. Traditionally, outbreaks of this disease have had epidemiologists worried when they occur, but fortunately the severity of the disease also means that it outbreaks have been contained rapidly, and the number of deaths historically have not been high with at most a few hundred deaths. The mortality in all outbreaks however has been high, with up to a 90% fatality rate in a 2003 outbreak in the Dem. Republic of the Congo. Currently, no treatment or preventative vaccine exists for Ebola virus.

The current outbreak is historic in its severity; as of late September, an outbreak in West Africa has affected over 6000 people with  about a 50% death rate. The origin of this and previous outbreaks is similar, with the virus moving from its native reservoir in bats to non-human primates, and then to humans. Outbreaks in human populations then occur when human to human transmission occurs with high frequency. The CDC estimates that this number of cases will continue to rise, with potentially 21,000 cases by the end of September, and estimates from the World Health Organization are similar in scope.

To curtail this rise in cases, immediate measures need to be instituted, primarily consisting of ensuring that sick individuals are cared for in equipped Ebola Treatment Units, or if full, in home/community settings with appropriate infection control procedures in place including safe burial procedures. The CDC currently has over 700 staff members actively working on the epidemic at labs in the US, and have deployed almost 100 specialists to offer assistance in the affected region. Part of their work oversees is to assist with screening measures to prevent the epidemic from spreading to other regions, and ensuring that medical and humanitarian resources can reach the affected areas. For US citizens, a non-essential travel alert for this region has been issued.

Public health investigators think that the current outbreak is so severe for a variety of reasons. Seasonal climate variation has potentially created an environment where the virus flourishes in its animal reservoir, or perhaps facilitates transfer from the bat to other transient animal carriers. Development into the jungle has eased the movement of people into regions where the virus is natively found, making animal-human transmission easier. Additionally, political turmoil makes it more difficult for health officials to rapidly respond when an outbreak occurs, and the current outbreak region spreads over several political jurisdictions. Together, these factors have combined for a perfect storm enabling a much greater outbreak than previously seen. The good news in all of this is that there is an international response to the outbreak, and the likelihood of the epidemic spreading to the United States remains very small, even when patients are brought to the US for treatment.


About ycpmicro

My name is David Singleton, and I am an Associate Professor of Microbiology at York College of Pennsylvania. My main course is BIO230, a course taken by allied-health students at YCP. Views on this site are my own.

Posted on September 25, 2014, in Danger danger danger!. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Ashley Hiltebeitel

    I am currently doing my research paper for Academic Writing on the Ebola virus and how we should not allow medical workers who have contracted the disease in an African country back into the United States until they are completely cured. This article is very interesting and convinces me even more towards my thesis because it states that the Center for Disease Control predicts the number of cases to rise to 21,000 by the end of this month. Many people do not realize how bad this disease could be if it begins to spread in the United States. It is a very disturbing disease when it is at its severity.

    • I disagree with you thesis about not allowing medical workers back into the US until cured. We understand well the routes of transmission of Ebolavirus, and with appropriate universal precautions in place (hopefully well droned in place by the end of BIO230) risks to other health care workers can be minimized. As a US citizen, I would be pretty upset if I were not allowed back into the country to receive care at home.

  2. I completely agree with not allowing any type of workers or aid volunteers back into the U.S. after they have been in Ebola infected countries until it is certain they are not infected. Symptoms of the virus take time to show as illustrated in what is currently happening in Texas. A man who entered the U.S from Liberia, a country in West Africa known for Ebola, was just yesterday upgraded from critical to serious. It took three weeks for this to happen from the time he entered the U.S. He took about one week to exhibit symptoms. All of the medical personnel in contact with the patient now have to be monitored. People planning to travel from Ebola infected countries should have to make their travel plans known to authories and be monitored for a set amount of time to be certain they are not infected.

    • I’m glad to hear that this topic is engendering such a good discussion! I think the popular media unfortunately has put forward a story about Ebola that is unreasonably alarmist–CNN’s banner headline as I type this is “Breaking News: NBC cameraman has Ebola” which goes on to state that the victim is currently being flown back to the US for treatment. By tomorrow morning, this will certainly set the online news commentators into a cycle of verbal one-upmanship which will likely only end with the US borders being sealed. According to the CDC’s website, Ebola risks to trained professionals here in the US who are giving treatment is minimal, and exposure to the general public in the absence of active symptoms is nil. Currently, the CDC is not recommending that any of the people flying in the plane back to the US with the Dallas patient be tested for Ebola.
      Quarantine and border closings certainly might be an appropriate response to a global pandemic that poses significant risk to the US population at large. Historically, large scale quarantine has not been an effective measure of containment in pandemic disease, such as smallpox and influenza. During the eradication of smallpox during the 1960’s, much more effective measures of containment of that significantly more contagious disease was to quickly identify active cases, give those patients the best treatment, and contain the spread. The risk of spread of Ebola is much slower, due to the fact that patients are only contagious when ill (in contrast to smallpox), and can only transmit it directly (in contrast to influenza).

  3. I don’t disagree about the media exaggerating and creating alarming headlines. I do believe the screenings the U.S. has for citizens or any people who are returning or entering the U.S. should be more effective. I believe the screenings are just answering questions. The person could be dishonest or ignorant. After the person enters the country, he or she could be promiscuous or just be kissing people placing those people at risk for contracting the virus during the initial stages of showing symptoms.

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