According to health care futurist Wanda Jones, head of the San Francisco-based New Century Healthcare Institute, "no one expects a flood of Ebola patients in the United States." But with the news that the US's first Ebola patient died this morning, it's reasonable to assume that we'll continue to see cases of the deadly disease — and Jones has some recommendations on what cities should do to ensure the illness doesn't spread.
Thomas Eric Duncan reportedly contracted Ebola in Liberia, then traveled to the US, He died of the disease this morning at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, CNN reports. The 42-year-old Liberian national had been diagnosed in mid-September, and had been in critical condition for the last few weeks, before succumbing early Wednesday.
Though it's still unclear if Duncan passed the disease on to anyone else the CDC says that Ebola transmission is through
- blood or body fluids (including but not limited to urine, saliva, sweat, feces, vomit, breast milk, and semen) of a person who is sick with or has died from Ebola
- objects (like needles and syringes) that have been contaminated with the virus
- infected animals
According to the CDC, Ebola is not spread through the air, by water, or by food (notwithstanding the consumption of infected animals, which you should not do). Outbreaks can spread rapidly in close quarters and urban environments, which is why Jones tells the San Francisco Business Times that the following strict policies should be put in place, should the number of US infections grow:
- Create "safe residences" where people can be isolated for 21 days until it's clear they have no symptoms.
- Quarantine patients so that family members and others don't come into contact with them.
- Identify safe ways to dispose of contaminated clothing and bed clothing from infected patients and their care givers.
- Take temperatures of patients before they enter ERs, so they can be isolated before sitting in emergency department waiting rooms.
- Select "dedicated" mortuaries where safe procedures are followed for embalming, burying or cremating victims of the disease.
- Pursue a strong (or stronger) screening process at African airports to prevent infected patients from boarding.
- Make public health warnings concerning the risk of traveling to affected countries, and keep a close watch of other nations in Africa, the Middle East and Europe that could become the next centers of the outbreak, already by far the worst ever.
- Institute a public health quarantine of returning U.S. military personnel returning from infrastructure work in West Africa, including building field hospitals for treatment of Ebola patients.
At present, none of these recommendations are officially in effect in any US cities, though CNN reports that "airports in the United States will begin taking the temperatures of arriving passengers who have flight itineraries originating from West African countries where Ebola is concentrated," as of this weekend or next week.
Outside the US, there have been (at publication time) eight confirmed cases of Ebola in European countries. As of October 3, the CDC reports that there are 7492 total cases of Ebola in West Africa's 2014 outbreak, 3439 of which have resulted in deaths.