From the beginning of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, the federal government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has insisted that the deadly viral hemorrhagic fever (in the infection’s horrific end stage, the victim bleeds from every orifice) can only be transmitted via direct contact with a victim’s bodily fluids — blood, vomit, urine, feces, sweat, nasal charge, or semen.
On Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014, in a press call, however, CDC Director Tom Frieden for the first time admitted that, in theory, a sneeze or cough could spread the virus from someone experiencing Ebola symptoms.
As reported by Elise Viebeck for The Hill, Frieden said, “There are certainly theoretical situations where someone sneezes … and you touch your eyes or mouth or nose,” and catch the virus from any transmitted particles. “[But] realistically you can say what may be theoretically possible as opposed to what actually happens in the real world” — whatever that means.
It also doesn’t help that at the same press call, under intense questioning from reporters, CDC officials and those from the Texas health department and the City of Dallas repeatedly declined to provide details about the steps being taken to prevent an Ebola outbreak in America.
Texas Health Commissioner David Lakey refused to identify or describe the four individuals who have been quarantined in Dallas due to possible exposure to Ebola from Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian native who flew from Nigeria to Dallas (through Brussels and Washington, DC) though infected with the virus. Duncan is the first confirmed case of Ebola in the U.S., his condition having been upgraded from “serious and stable” to “critical.”
Lakey would not explain why the quarantine order was necessary, saying only that it brings “confidence” that key medical monitoring will take place. Another official said later that the four individuals sought to leave home in spite of the quarantine, but would not provide more detail. In a separate later press conference, health officials referred to the quarantined as Duncan’s “family members,” although those “family members” have been identified in news accounts as being Duncan’s fiancée and her children. (How is a not yet married fiancée a “family member”?)
Officials confirmed that roughly 100 people across America are being questioned about possible exposure to the virus — up from reports of more than 80 earlier in the day. Only a “handful” likely could have caught the virus, they said, and no one but Duncan is showing symptoms.
At the press call, officials also refused to answer other questions from reporters:
- Why weren’t the four individuals quarantined in a medical facility?
- How many of Duncan’s younger contacts were in school this week?
- Why weren’t soiled linens that likely carry the virus immediately removed from the apartment in which Duncan was staying? Instead, it took 5 days before workers in HazMat suits went into the apartment to remove the contaminated bed sheets and towels.
The press conference became increasingly confrontational.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings scolded journalists for being “part of the problem” while, at the same time, calling the response to the case “at best, disorganized.” He said, ”It is, at best, disorganized out there and we have some members of the press that are creating a bit more of that. We need everybody to be professional.”
Journalists complained about the lack of information as officials left. ”Is this transparency?” asked one reporter. “You bring us all here and then only take six or seven questions? … I have a job to do.”
Meanwhile, the Chinese government news agency Xinhua reports the cheerful news today that another deadly hemorrhagic fever, Marburg, has broken out in the East African country of Uganda after samples taken to the Uganda Virus Institute tested positive.
Elioda Tumwesigye, Uganda’s minister of state for health told reporters that one person has so far died on Sept. 28 and 80 others are being monitored, “The Ministry of Health would like to inform the country of an outbreak Marburg which has so far killed one person. Another person who has developed signs is being monitored.”
According to the World Health Organization, Marburg is a severe and highly fatal disease caused by a virus from the same family as the one that causes Ebola. The illness caused by Marburg virus begins abruptly, with severe headache and malaise. Marburg’s fatality rates have varied greatly,from 25% to more than 80% (in the Democratic Republic of Congo from 1998-2000), to even higher in an outbreak in Angola in late 2004.
In West Africa, it is estimated that the current Ebola epidemic has left more than 3,000 people dead.
Dr. Eowyn’s post first appeared at Fellowship of the Minds.