Monday, July 28, 2014

Ebola could easily arrive in the USA on board a plane, but wouldn't spread far, experts say.


The growing Ebola outbreak in West Africa serves as a grim reminder that deadly viruses are only a plane ride away from the USA, health experts say.
The outbreak is the deadliest on record, with more than 670 deaths and nearly 1,100 infections in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to the World Health Organization. Fatality rates for Ebola have been as high as 90% in past outbreaks, according to the WHO.
The virus — which has an incubation period of a few days to three weeks — could easily travel to the USA through infected travelers, says Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
EBOLA OUTBREAK: What you need to know
"A case very well could fly out of Africa, only to be detected in some distant country," says Osterholm, who served as an adviser to the George W. Bush administration on bioterrorism.
But Ebola "would not pose a major public health risk" in the USA, he says.
Ebola is unlikely to cause large outbreaks here, he says, because people need to be in intimate contact to spread the virus.
While Ebola is a fearsome disease, it's actually much harder to spread than respiratory infections, such as influenza or measles. Those viruses pose a much greater threat on a plane or any confined space, says Osterholm, who notes that people cannot spread the Ebola virus simply by sneezing or coughing.
But Ebola does spread readily through body fluids, such as blood and saliva, Osterholm says. On a plane, a sick person could potentially contaminate the bathroom if he or she vomits or has diarrhea.
But Stephen Morse, an epidemiologist at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, says the issue of how Ebola spreads is complex.
Sweat and saliva carry much lower levels of the Ebola virus than blood and stool, so the virus spreads less readily through those fluids.

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