Since my last blog, Ebola has not only worsened in West Africa, but the virus has finally hit the U.S. This is the first time Ebola has been diagnosed on U.S. soil, a scary reality to say the least! You may remember two Ebola patients being admitted to Atlanta’s Emory hospital in early August. These cases were different, however, in that they were diagnosed in Africa and consequently isolated prior to entering the United States. In the present case, the infected person arrived to Texas from Liberia on September 20th, but was not admitted to a hospital and isolated from the public for entire week! This is after the patient had already visited Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital on September 26th complaining of Ebola-like symptoms. The medical staff was informed of the patient’s recent arrival from West Africa and still sent the patient home, albeit with pain killers and antibiotics. A major failure of the screening system perhaps?
The most pressing question right now is, do we have cause to panic? I don’t personally believe so, and it appears many experts don’t either. Though I was admittedly alarmed to here this news yesterday, the reality is that this virus remains difficult to contract from person to person. The explosiveness of the West African epidemic is a result of variables other than the simple virulence and communicability of the disease, but rather to issues such as preparedness, infrastructural capacity, and availability of resources, as noted in my earlier blogs. These factors do not pose the same obstacles in the U.S.
About a month ago, I predicted future Ebola case and fatality rates through the weeks of September based on the virus’s rate of spread throughout the preceding five months. Now a month down the road it is time to reflect on those predictions and see where things stand. Frighteningly, the predictions were an underestimate and not an overestimate of the true chaos continuing to unfold. Under predicting by about 14%, the true death toll by Sept. 18th (the most recent data) stands at 2,833. Rising even more sharply, the number of cases by this date stands at 5,883. Since disease statistics are usually delayed, and because WHO has been releasing Ebola data less frequently in recent weeks, there is no way to compare my Oct. 1st predictions at the moment. Although they are certain to represent even greater underestimates if the rate of Ebola’s spread has continued uninterrupted. I will keep you up to date as new information is released by WHO and CDC. In the meantime, let’s cross our fingers that diligence and precaution prevent any further spread of Ebola to or throughout the United States and that the situation in West Africa gets under control!
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-Shahir Masri, MS