Doctors at Emory University Hospital will treat two Americans who contracted Ebola in Liberia. This will be the first time anyone with Ebola will be taken to the United States.
As West Africa reels from what epidemiologists are calling the largest Ebola outbreak in history, two American Ebola patients currently being treated in the region will arrive Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, within the next few days.
The United States Department of State said in a statement Friday that transport of the two American citizens marks the first time anyone with Ebola has been brought into the U.S.
"Every precaution is being taken to move the patients safely and securely, to provide critical care en route on a non-commercial aircraft, and to maintain strict isolation upon arrival in the United States," said the State Department, which would not name the patients for reasons of privacy.
CNN previously reported that the two infected citizens are Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, who had been doing medical charity work in Liberia when they contracted Ebola, and that a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plane had left Georgia late Thursday afternoon.
Initially, only one of the Americans was to be flown to Emory, according to a statement released by the hospital Thursday. The statement contained both an explanation of the transfer and a letter to hospital staff, ensuring extensive steps would be taken to ensure the disease doesn't spread beyond the patient:
"Emory University Hospital physicians, nurses and staff are highly trained in the specific and unique protocols and procedures necessary to treat and care for this type of patient. For this specially trained staff, these procedures are practiced on a regular basis throughout the year so we are fully prepared for this type of situation."
The patients will be treated in an isolation unit built with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is physically separate from the rest of the hospital and "has unique equipment and infrastructure that provide an extraordinarily high level of clinical isolation," according to the statement.
Dr. Bruce Ribner, an infectious disease specialist at Emory, said at a press conference that the patients would have much better care in the United States. He said he had "no concerns" about his own health, even though he will be working in the unit where the patients will be treated.
In Africa, the outbreak has killed 729 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since March. One American citizen died in Nigeria after contracting the disease in Liberia. While the fatality rate of Ebola can reach 90%, roughly 60% of those infected in this spree are dying, due mainly to early detection and treatment.
However, government and public health officials are having trouble containing the disease, which can be contracted through contact with an infected person's bodily fluids. Sierra Leone has banned all public meetings and will being quarantining infected homes and area, while Liberia will do the same, and has closed its schools and borders.
Even with the incoming patient, the chances of an Ebola outbreak in the United States are low. Also, if Ebola did spread beyond the isolation unit at Emory, the disease can be contained and treated easier and more efficiently than it can be in Africa, where medical personnel are ignored or attacked because of local's fears that they carry the disease themselves. The United States also has stronger and safer medical infrastructure than the affected countries.
That said, plenty of pandemics have landed stateside, and there are many federal, state and local laws that give health authorities plenty of power to contain them.
Both the Secretary of Health and Human Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention— the country's national public health service — can do whatever is necessary to prevent diseases from foreign countries from getting into and spreading throughout the United States. HHS sets the guidelines and protocols for doing this, and CDC carries them out.
CDC agents are regularly stationed at border crossings, airports and sea ports to monitor anyone entering the country. If they see someone who might be carrying an infectious disease, or if the captain, pilot or crew of a ship or airplane reports him to the CDC, the agents can examine and detain them. The agents can do this whether or not there is an epidemic abroad.
If a disease becomes so prevalent within the U.S., the federal government can set up quarantine areas to contain those infected. These sites are directed by the Surgeon General of the United States.
The federal government is in charge of making sure diseases don't enter the country. But if they do or something slips through the cracks, it's up to each state to contain it.
State and local law
Federal intervention for epidemics and pandemics doesn't stop at national borders: If the federal government finds that state efforts to prevent diseases from spreading throughout the country aren't working, it will step in and do whatever it deems necessary to stop the spread from state to state.
This includes "inspection, fumigation, disinfection, sanitation, pest extermination and destruction of animals or articles believed to be sources of infection," according to the Public Health title of the Code of Federal Regulations.
To make sure this doesn't happen, each state has laws giving the proper health authorities the ability to quarantine people, animals plants and anything else infected with a communicable disease if it poses a major health risk. States also have laws giving county and municipal officials the ability to do the same within their own borders.
While federal law makes it illegal to move between states when you've be diagnosed with a dangerous infectious disease (since action involving more than one state is legally a federal issues), you can be charged with a misdemeanor in many states for refusing to willingly enter quarantine.
Washington state takes it up a notch, making it a misdemeanor to even be in public places when you're sick with a contagious disease, effectively requiring you to quarantine yourself.
Other states have laws aimed at curbing the spread of a epidemic before it even begins. In New York city, it's been illegal to spit on sidewalks and the floors of public places and vehicles since 1896. The law was passed to curb the spread of tuberculosis, pneumonia and other respiratory infections.
New York state also requires all students enrolled in college to be vaccinated for measles, mumps and rubella, and all employees of healthcare and residential facilities must be vaccinated for the flu or wear a face mask at work.
Tags: DISEASE, EBOLA, HEALTH, HEALTH & FITNESS, MEDICINE, U.S., US & World, WORLD