First Ebola diagnosis in the United States: Should we worry?

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(CNN) -- For the first time, a patient in an American hospital has been diagnosed with Ebola.

The unidentified man, who is being treated at a Dallas hospital, didn't show symptoms until several days after he arrived in the United States from Liberia.

Officials are tight-lipped about how he contracted the virus or how he's being treated, citing privacy concerns.

But shortly after the news broke Tuesday evening, more than 50,000 tweets about Ebola flew through Twitter in a one-hour period, many of them panicked responses.

Should we be concerned?

The short answer: no.

Now let's get to the long answer.

Could the patient's fellow passengers be infected?

The patient being treated in Texas flew from one of the Ebola hot zones -- Liberia -- to Dallas.

But his fellow passengers aren't thought to be at risk because you can only contract Ebola through direct contact with the bodily fluids of someone who's actively sick with it.

It's not like a cold or the flu, which can be spread before symptoms show up. And it doesn't spread through the air.

"It's very unlikely that (Ebola victims) would be able to spread the disease to fellow passengers," said Stephan Monroe of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What's to stop other Ebola patients from getting on a flight and coming here?

The CDC has issued warnings to avoid nonessential travel to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, the countries hit the hardest by the outbreak.

And it's also working with airport officials in those nations, and in Nigeria, so every person getting on a plane is screened for fever.

"And if they have a fever, they are pulled out of the line, assessed for Ebola and don't fly unless Ebola is ruled out," CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said.

How do airport authorities know what to look for?

Those stricken with Ebola suffer ghastly symptoms -- including vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain, fever and unexplained bleeding.

That's part of the reason why the odds of getting Ebola from plane passengers is very low, the International Air Transport Association said.

"It is highly unlikely that someone suffering such symptoms would feel well enough to travel."

What's being done when the planes land in the U.S.?

The United States isn't planning on banning flights coming from the hot zones in West Africa, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in August.

But once flights land at a U.S. airport from one of those countries, passengers are screened again.

"And there are facilities available that if an individual is detected exhibiting these symptoms, that they can be quarantined and promptly evaluated by a medical professional," Earnest said.

Are those procedures being followed?

CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen said when she and two colleagues recently returned from reporting in Liberia, they got a mixed bag of responses from Customs and Border Protection officers.

"We all said we were journalists who had just been in Liberia covering Ebola," Cohen said. "One of my colleagues was told, 'Oh, OK, welcome back home, sir' -- and (was) just let in -- that was it."

Cohen herself got a different response.

"I was told, 'Wait a minute, I think I got an email about this,' and the border patrol officer went and consulted with his colleagues," Cohen said.

That officer later told her she should check her system for 21 days.

"I said, 'What should I be checking?' And he wasn't sure," Cohen said.

The third colleague merely had his boots checked to see if there was mud on them.

"Three very different responses. They can't all be the way to do it," Cohen said. "I was surprised at how sort of chaotic it felt."

So, how did Dallas patient slip through?

The Ebola patient in Dallas didn't start showing symptoms until several days after he landed in the United States, Frieden said.

Isn't he putting others at risk?

The paramedics who took the patient to the hospital have been isolated, the chief of staff for Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings told CNN. They have not shown symptoms of the disease so far.

The ambulance that carried the patient -- ambulance No. 37 -- was in use for two days after the transport but was properly decontaminated, said Dallas city spokeswoman Sana Syed.

Frieden said the patient himself had a handful of contacts with people after he fell ill and before he was isolated -- a period of about four days.

A CDC team arrived in Texas to investigate the people who came in contact with the man. Those people will be monitored for 21 days to see if they develop symptoms. If they do, they'll be isolated.

"It is certainly possible that someone who had contact with this individual could develop Ebola in the coming weeks," Frieden said. "But there is no doubt in my mind that we will stop it here."

How is this not concerning?

Although there's no vaccine and no cure, the one real advantage we have with Ebola is that doctors know how to control it.

Ebola isn't "some mystical pathogen (with) some bizarre mode of transmission," said Bruce Ribner, director of Emory University Hospital's Infectious Disease Unit.

And we have the resources to contain it.

How are we so confident?

For starters, the United States has the luxury of better health care compared to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

The U.S. has facilities that can "do the kind of isolation that apparently is very difficult to do within the health care infrastructure in the African countries that we are talking about," said Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health.

Secondly, remember Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol? The doctor and the American missionary were infected in Liberia, brought to Atlanta's Emory University Hospital, placed in isolation units, treated and discharged.

They were the first humans with Ebola to ever arrive in the United States. And they are now fine.

CNN's Jen Christensen, Madison Park, Ben Brumfield and Dana Ford contributed to this report.

17 comments

  • Velda

    Africa is rural.

    USA is cluttered with interstates and we all have cars.

    This out break has the potential to kill at least 200-million Americans.

    We met it in, now we must deal with it.

  • Brian

    Sorry to say this but they should have treated the sick ones over there instead of bringing them back here. There was no way they could be for sure it would not get out and cause an outbreak here, Now they are going to have major problems trying to keep it from spreading.

  • Sarah 300

    Fear-mongers.

    Stop with the generalizations. We are safe. Remember Anthrax? Throwing out a bone at election time maybe? Anthrax came and went with the election. 

    Why live in a country where you are scared to death? You are safe. Well you are safe as long as the gun toting people don’t shoot us by accident. 
    Read these statistics. 
    Ebola 0 
    Gun Accidents 5000
    Car accidents – 40000 deaths a year.

  • Sarah 300

    I have set my calendar to mark one year from now. Then we will see the truth of these comments.
    Wash your hands a lot, stay away from guns and cars and you will live longer.
    We live in the best country in the world. Stop all this “THE SKY IS FALLING BUSINESS”.

    • Honey Badger

      so is there any chance that if the realtor down in Little Rock had been carrying one of those EVIL guns she might still be alive?

  • Mel

    When the CDC says there is little to no chance of the virus spreading, they are calculating that everyone in the medical profession will follow protocol and do his or her job. It is not surprising to find out that did not happen. We are human and humans make mistakes. I am not comforted by the fact that the medical profession failed its first test.

  • Arnold fudpucker

    Have you noticed how the so-called officials are slowly changing their stories. Yesterday there was no chance of spreading.Today it is being said there shouldn’t be any widespread outbreak. Still there is no move to ban entry of people who have been in those contaminated parts of the world.
    How stupid is it that these people are checked only for evidence of a fever before they board a plane to come over here? First off the people who checking the passengers are probably gubbamint workers and have no real training. Second there is the problem of incubation period. Just like this guy that is causing all the problem in Dallas, He didn’t have the fever when he boarded the plane because he was still in the incubation period. He manifested the ebola virus AFTER he got here.
    People who have been in that part of the world should be quarantined for 30 days before being examined and cleared to enter this country.
    We are NOT the welfare system for the world and we are NOT the emergency medical providers for the world.

  • Arkajun

    We’ve got enterovirus infecting our kids along with an unknown disease paralyzing kids in Colorado, more measles and chickenpox cases now than at anytime in recent history. We’ve got Asian Flu, Avian(bird)Flu, lyme disease, mad cow disease and no telling what known and unknown diseases are being brought into this country by the unchecked thusands of legal and illegal immigrants pouring accross our border. We have parents that don’t have the kids immunized because they don’t think it’s necessary……why should we be worried about a little eboli(sarcastly speaking)

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