POLITICS

Ebola Hearing Details Real Risks Of Deadly Disease Hitting U.S.

08/07/2014 04:54 pm ET | Updated Aug 07, 2014

WASHINGTON -- What are the real risks of Ebola spreading to the United States? That was one of the topics at a congressional hearing Thursday on the deadly disease outbreak in West Africa.

The short answer is that the virus could be brought to U.S. shores by someone flying in from an affected nation, but that such an incident would be highly unlikely to spark a major outbreak in this country, said Thomas Frieden, the head of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

First, the Ebola virus does not transmit easily, unlike a cold or flu virus, and people who have contracted it but are not yet sick are not dangerous.

"You're not going to get it from someone who is not sick from Ebola," Frieden told the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He explained that the disease is transmitted though close contact and exchange of bodily fluids, which is why in Africa the two main avenues of infection have been in health care settings and in funerals where there is significant contact with the recently deceased, who remain highly contagious.

Second, although an Ebola-infected person not yet showing symptoms could certainly arrive in the United States and subsequently fall ill and infect another person, Frieden said U.S. medical facilities are well-prepared to deal with the illness.

"We're confident that there will not be a large Ebola outbreak in the U.S. We're confident that we have the facilities here to isolate patients, not only at the highly advanced ones like the one at Emory [University Hospital in Atlanta], but really at virtually every major hospital in the U.S.," Frieden said.

"What's needed is not fancy equipment," he added. "What's needed is standard infection control, rigorously applied."

Frieden also said that the CDC has issued guidance for health care providers to identify, diagnose and treat Ebola. Airline flight crews, cleaning staff and cargo crews have also received briefings, he said.

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  • EPA
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  • A handout photo released by the Spanish Defense Ministry shows several paramedics wearing protective suits as they mov Spanish missionary Miguel Pajares, who is infected with ebola, into an ambulance upon his arrival at Spanish Air Force base in Torrejon de Ardoz, outside Madrid, Spain, 07 August 2014. Pajares and missionary Juliana Bohi, who is not infected, were moved to Carlos III Hospital, in Madrid, to be treated after they arrived from Liberia on board a Spanish Air Force plane.
  • Liberian Muslims perform prayers before the burial of Ebola victims in the Banjor Community on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia 06 August 2014. According to statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO) 932 patients have died from Ebola in West Africa with most of the latest deaths reported in Liberia. WHO officials are meeting in Geneva to discuss the global implications and response to the outbreak. In Nigeria a second person a nurse who treated an Ebola patient has died.
  • Liberian nurses carry the body of an Ebola victim from a house for burial in the Banjor Community on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia 06 August 2014. According to statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO) 932 patients have died from Ebola in West Africa with most of the latest deaths reported in Liberia. WHO officials are meeting in Geneva to discuss the global implications and response to the outbreak. In Nigeria a second person a nurse who treated an Ebola patient has died.
  • Liberian woman weeps over the death of a relative from Ebola in the Banjor Community on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia 06 August 2014. According to statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO) 932 patients have died from Ebola in West Africa with most of the latest deaths reported in Liberia. WHO officials are meeting in Geneva to discuss the global implications and response to the outbreak. In Nigeria a second person a nurse who treated an Ebola patient has died.
  • EPA
    Liberian nurses bury the body of an Ebola victim in the Banjor Community on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia 06 August 2014. According to statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO) 932 patients have died from Ebola in West Africa with most of the latest deaths reported in Liberia. WHO officials are meeting in Geneva to discuss the global implications and response to the outbreak. In Nigeria a second person a nurse who treated an Ebola patient has died.
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