Ebola Spreads to US; Risk to Alaska Deemed Low

Federal health officials announced today that the first case of Ebola has been diagnosed in the U.S. in Texas. The patient, who traveled from Liberia, is being treated in isolation at a hospital in Dallas.

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The director of the Centers for Disease Control says he has no doubt that the disease will be stopped in its tracks in the U.S.

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Red Cross volunteers prepare to bury the body of an Ebola victim in Pendembu, Sierra Leone. The Ebola outbreak in Africa has claimed nearly 3,000 lives. Photo by Tommy Trenchard for NPR.

Still, public health officials in Alaska are prepared to respond to Ebola if it arrives in the state.

Michael Cooper is the Infectious Disease Program Manager with the state’s Division of Public Health. He says Alaska is making sure everyone at every level is ready for a potential case of Ebola. But he says because the state has few people with roots in West African countries, Alaska isn’t likely to see a case of the disease:

“Our risk is exceptionally low. It’s harder to get here and the we have fewer people who have ties there that are from there or going over there to work and coming back to Alaska.”

But Cooper says even though the risk is low, the state is taking extensive precautions. The division of public health has issued health alerts and is ensuring that any health care worker or airline worker who could be involved in responding to Ebola will know what to do.

“We’re making sure that whether it’s today or in three months, if somebody comes and they fit certain criteria, they were over there, they have a high risk exposure, they have certain symptoms, that everyone they were to come into contact with in Alaska has a high index of suspicion and they know what to do and who to call very quickly.”

Cooper says if a patient is diagnosed with Ebola in Alaska, the disease could be quickly contained. That’s because Ebola can only be transmitted through bodily fluids.

The Ebola outbreak has killed more than 3,000 people across West Africa, in countries that lack basic public health infrastructure.

 

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Annie Feidt is the Editor and Producer of Alaska News Nightly, and is also a frequent contributor to the show. Her reporting has taken her searching for polar bears on the Chukchi Sea ice, out to remote checkpoints on the Iditarod Trail, and up on the Eklutna Glacier with scientists studying its retreat. Her stories have been heard nationally on NPR and Marketplace. Annie’s career in radio journalism began in 1998 at Minnesota Public Radio, where she produced the regional edition of All Things Considered. She moved to Anchorage in 2004 with her husband, intending to stay in the 49thstate just a few years. She has no plans to leave anytime soon. afeidt (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8443 | About Annie