CDC expert offers facts about Ebola epidemic


“We’re fairly confident we can handle the travelers” from countries with Ebola, CDC officer Allison Arwady tells a UIC audience Tuesday. Photo: Joshua Clark/UIC Photo Services


“The whole country has stopped shaking hands.”

That’s the report from Liberia, one of the three West African nations hit hardest by the Ebola virus, from Allison Arwady of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

An Epidemic Intelligence Service officer assigned to the Illinois Department of Public Health, Arwady spoke about the outbreak to a crowd of UIC health care staff and others Tuesday at the Eye and Ear Infirmary.

The Harvard-educated physician was in Liberia this summer when the first two Ebola-infected Americans were transferred to the U.S.

“You can’t get Ebola through the air, water or food, only through direct contact with blood or body fluids, or through broken skin or eyes, nose and mouth, or from infected objects like needles,” Arwady said.

Fever is the most common symptom, followed by headache, weakness, dizziness and diarrhea.

Factors in contracting Ebola

Age is a factor. In Sierra Leone — one of the countries with the most cases, along with Liberia and Guinea — 90 percent of Ebola victims over age 45 are likely to die, compared with 50 percent of those under 20. The three countries have experienced about 13,000 cases and 5,000 deaths, Arwady said.

She compared Liberia, one of the 10 poorest countries in the world, with the United States. Americans have an average annual income of $46,400; Liberians’ average annual income is $454. The U.S. has 242 physicians per 100,000 population; in Liberia, it’s fewer than 5.

Liberia is at another disadvantage in fighting Ebola because of the ravages of two civil wars between 1989 and 2003. “They have a generation without education and a weak infrastructure,” Arwady said.

For those who are treating patients, “personal protection equipment is often nonexistent,” she said. In one Liberian clinic, “there was a single pair of gloves for all health care workers. They have a high burden of infection.”

Nine cases of Ebola have been reported in this country, she reported. One patient died, one is in treatment and seven have recovered.

1 chance in 13.3 million

Americans have 1 chance in 13.3 million of contracting Ebola, she said. That compares with the chance of dying in a plane crash, 1 in 11 million; being struck by lightning, 1 in 9.6 million; and being bitten by a shark, 1 in 3.7 million. The chance of getting the virus in Monrovia, the Liberian capital, is 1 in 5,000.

An estimated 100 persons a day enter the U.S. from the three most-infected countries. They have their temperatures taken, are questioned about symptoms and monitored for 21 days by the CDC, she said.

Illinois is not among the top 20 states receiving these travelers, Arwady added. “We’re fairly confident we can handle the travelers coming in,” she said.

The primary response in West Africa right now is to build more treatment centers, and U.S. military members have been sent in to help, Arwady said.

“Keeping Ebola contained to this area is crucial” in preventing its spread to other countries, including the U.S., she said.

No one has been quarantined in Illinois yet, and won’t be unless they get a needle stick or a splash in the face from an Ebola victim, Arwady said.

“The goal is not to quarantine people who don’t have high-risk exposures,” she said, because quarantines may discourage health care workers from traveling to West Africa to fight the outbreak.

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