Disease expert says Ebola outbreak unlikely in Alabama

BIRMINGHAM, Ala (WIAT) — Treatment appears to be saving the life of an American doctor infected with Ebola. But is it possible Ebola could spread to the US? That’s  a question people right here in Alabama are asking.

Currently Dr. Kent Brantley is being treated 2 hours away in Atlanta, Georgia. Doctors started Brantley on an experimental drug called Zmapp while he was in Liberia and near death. A second American aid worker infected with Ebola is on the way to Emery Hospital tonight.

With two Ebola patients just hours away, the thought on many peoples minds is: could we be at risk for a viral outbreak here in Birmingham? WIAT 42 News reached out to a disease control expert at the Jefferson County Department of Health for answers.

Over the past few weeks there has been a lot of fear and mystery building around the Ebola virus. Today we put out the question on social media: “What do you want to know about Ebola?” The goal was to put some of those fears to rest and separate fact from fiction.

The first case of Ebola was discovered in 1976 in rural Africa. It’s believed to have been initially transmitted through a bite from a fruit bat or ape. But the outbreaks were short lived and usually burned themselves out. 38 years later, things have changed.

“This outbreak, that’s been going on since March, is by far and away the biggest outbreak to happen since the virus was discovered,” claims Dr. Edward Khan, Medical Director of Disease Control at the Jefferson County Department of Health.

And that’s what causes one mothers concern knowing there will be not one, but two patients only a few hours away.

“It’s scary definitely,” says mother of two, Rachel Washburn. “It’s a hard thing to think about your kids maybe getting it.”

But Kahn claims an outbreak here in Alabama or more specifically Birmingham is unlikely. He says Ebola is spread human to human through blood, mucus or other bodily fluids.  A casual encounter with someone from or who has visited West Africa wont necessarily mean you’ll come down with the virus.

“If someone came from that part of the world, and has no symptoms, they’re not infectious for Ebola,” says Kahn. “People who are infectious for it are sick with the disease, actively ill.”

And Dr. Kent Brantly is most definitely ill but showing improvement. That’s why mom Angela Brooks supports his trip to Atlanta despite the fear of infection.

“I think they have a better opportunity here to get medication,” says Brooks.

And that’s what important, in 1976 Ebola had a fatality rate of 90% Today its mortality rate is around 60%. Officials say even without a cure, treatment like IV fluids, electrolytes and other medicines can keep it from being a killer. For more information about the Ebola virus watch the entire interview with Dr. Edward Kahn.

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