Government health leaders told senators today that “disastrous” variables in the Democratic Republic of the Congo create a scenario where the Ebola outbreak there can spread, including to countries like the United States.
As of March 5, the World Health Organization has reported 841 confirmed and 66 probable cases of Ebola in the DRC; 57 percent were female and 30 percent were children under 18 years old.
With a 63 percent fatality rate, 569 deaths have been reported and 304 patients have been discharged from Ebola treatment centers.
Retired Navy Rear Adm. R.T. Ziemer, acting assistant administrator in the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance at the National Institutes of Health, told the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies that both the security situation in the affected area and public trust of the healthcare system are “going in the wrong direction.”
“We’re having to make adjustments with the reality on the ground” to confront the crisis with strategic reassessments on a daily basis, Ziemer said.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield said it was critical to correctly identify who has been attacking Ebola clinics — largely criminals instead of rebels, he said — and to recognize that the community as a whole “sure doesn’t trust outsiders.”
People experiencing symptoms but not coming forward due to that mistrust constitutes a “disastrous indicator for an Ebola response,” he warned.
Given these factors, Redfield told lawmakers, it’s “nearly miraculous we haven’t seen cross-border spread yet.”
Asked how concerned U.S. officials are that the Ebola outbreak could spread here, National Institutes of Health National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci replied, “There may be an individual case that could come to a developed country, including our own.”
However, Fauci said, it’s “extremely unlikely” that it would develop into an outbreak because of how it’s spread.
According to the WHO, Ebola spreads “through human-to-human transmission via direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and with surfaces and materials (e.g. bedding, clothing) contaminated with these fluids.”