Right now, most of mainstream culture is focusing on the few cases of Ebola in the US, and the CDC’s reaction to them. The most recent case of Ebola occurred in New York.
On Thursday, October 23, Dr. Craig Spencer was admitted into Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan for Ebola. Dr. Spencer was in the hospital two days after he returned home from a trip to West Africa. He had traveled to Guinea with Doctors Without Borders in order to help combat the spread of the deadly disease. The 33-year old doctor spent three weeks in Guinea working with Ebola patients; at the end of his service, he left Guinea on October 14th and traveled to Brussels, Belgium. From there, he arrived in New York on October 17th.
When Dr. Spencer arrived, he was asymptomatic, which means that he could not have spread the disease to anyone on the plane. Knowing that he was in an Ebola hotspot, Dr. Spencer self-monitored himself by taking his temperature twice a day, but for the first few days, there was no sign of Ebola. After coming back, Dr. Spencer felt fatigue, but there was no fever so he continued with his regular life. In the ensuing days, Dr. Spencer went for a three mile jog, went to a coffee stand and a Manhattan restaurant, and then went to The Gutter to bowl. It was on Thursday, October 23, that Dr. Spencer experienced a fever, and he immediately went to Bellevue Hospital and protocol for Ebola treatment began.
Bellevue Hospital is the nation’s oldest public hospital, and for centuries, it has treated the most severe health conditions with high rates of success. It is the hospital that treated the last known case of smallpox in America. Governor Cuomo explicated that it was one of eight hospitals in New York that is specially trained to deal with Ebola. Health officials are confident that Bellevue is prepared to deal with this Ebola case, especially because Dr. Spencer was given treatment immediately after expressing symptoms. Unlike the late Thomas Eric Duncan who received treatment very late in the game, Dr. Spencer was rushed to treatment.
Once Dr. Spencer was admitted into Bellevue Hospital, New York City Mayor De Blasio, New York Governor Cuomo, State Health Commissioner Dr. Zucker, and a few others gave a joint press conference at the hospital. In the meeting, they explained repeatedly that Dr. Spencer was not infectious when he visited the restaurant, the subway, or The Gutter, and those places were therefore safe to go to. Throughout the conference, the officials stressed that Ebola could only spread through bodily fluids such as blood and sweat, but the public still seems to be at unease.
Noting that the Ebola disease entered the US through airports, New Jersey and New York has adopted a new quarantine plan that Governors Christie and Cuomo explained would only apply to certain people. The plan is that individuals with the highest degree (meaning direct contact) of exposure to Ebola will be quarantined for 21 days at a government-run location upon entry into the United States.
This means that any physician that was working with Ebola patients in Africa will be quarantined for three weeks before being released. The 21-day quarantine is designed to ascertain that the patient does not have Ebola. The number 21 comes from the upper end of Ebola’s latency period. On the other hand, individuals with low-risk exposure will only be monitored for temperature and symptoms.
These policies first went into effect when a health care worker who worked in West Africa reported a fever. This health care worker landed in Newark Airport, and she was immediately quarantined. It was later confirmed by tests that the worker did not have Ebola.
The present situation does make people wonder how safe they are. Once again, there is no need to panic. Ebola can only be spread through bodily fluids when the patient is symptomatic. Health officials and government officials are taking extra precautions to make sure that every case of Ebola is contained and treated according to strict protocol.
The protocol of the automatic 21-day quarantine is controversial. Some claim that it is unnecessary and that it deters physicians from going to West Africa to help fight Ebola. Others support the quarantine and hail it as a step in the right direction. Only time will determine if current government measures are enough to combat the spread Ebola.
By Aditya Uppuluri