CDC shifts Ebola attention to travellers

ATLANTA -- Now that Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol are in isolation at Emory University Hospital, the CDC's attention has turned to a more pressing problem from Ebola. They are concerned about people travelling to the United States from West African countries.

The CDC is alerting health departments and hospitals across the country to be hyper-vigilant watching for potential exposure to Ebola in any person who has traveled from Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria in the past 21 days.

The CDC is the only lab testing for the Ebola virus. Two blood tests are used to confirm an Ebola diagnosis. The Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) and the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) are usually used in tandem because neither one alone is a perfect test.

Blood tests in suspected patients are first sent to the local health department and then to the CDC. Tom Skinner, a CDC spokesperson, said blood samples are packaged according to biomedical standards and shipped by traditional carriers, like UPS and FedEx.

In Columbus, Ohio, a 46 year old woman was isolated at an undisclosed hospital while she waited for test results. She had recently traveled to West Africa.

And in New York City, doctors at Mount Sinai Hospital isolated a man who visited West Africa last month and suddenly got sick when he came home.

The Columbus woman's test came back negative. Doctors in New York said it is unlikely the patient at Mount Sinai has Ebola. His blood sample is expected to arrive at the CDC on Wednesday.

Skinner said the tests usually take about one day for results. He said once the tests are complete the samples are incinerated.

An infectious disease specialist says it is the unknown, not the known that we should be more concerned about. Dr. Rob Dretler said Dr. Brantly and Nancy Writebol pose no threat to the general public. "And we know what to do and can completely isolate them but someone coming home who doesn't know they are sick and is here a few days and gets sick, that's the risk," he said.

Skinner said the CDC has already received dozens of inquiries from hospitals and health departments. After screening those cases, Skinner said about a half-dozen blood samples have been sent to the CDC. All of them came back negative.


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