Health
Pius Utomi Ekpei / AFP / Getty Images

US tries to calm fears as Ebola virus spreads

National security adviser says virus a ‘grave concern,’ but officials believe risk of spread to US remote

U.S. health officials are monitoring the Ebola outbreak in West Africa but said the risk that the deadly disease will spread to the United States is remote.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday sent a health alert to U.S. doctors about the outbreak. There are no travel restrictions to the region hit by the disease, The Associated Press reported.

Meanwhile, Susan Rice, the U.S. national security adviser, said the outbreak was of "grave concern." 

"We are very much present and active in trying to help the countries of the region and the international authorities like the World Health Organization address and contain this threat. But it is indeed a very worrying epidemic," she told MSNBC News.

Last month the CDC issued a midlevel travel advisory for health workers.

Two American aid workers in Liberia have contracted the Ebola virus, and Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian-American who worked for the Liberian government, has died from it.

Sawyer, a consultant for Liberia's Finance Ministry, was in Liberia to care for his sister, who, unbeknownst to him, had Ebola. She died, and after her funeral, he was flying to Lagos, Nigeria, for a conference and became ill on the plane.

He collapsed on arrival at the airport in Lagos and was put in isolation at the First Consultants Hospital in Obalende, one of the most crowded parts of Lagos, which is home to 21 million people. He died on July 24.

He was due to return to the United States in August, and his wife, Decontee Sawyer, said he could have easily carried the disease home.

Nigeria case

Map showing the spread of Ebola in West Africa
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Lagos shut and quarantined the hospital where he died — the first recorded case of the highly infectious disease in Nigeria. 

"The private hospital was demobilized [evacuated], and the primary source of infection eliminated. The decontamination process in all the affected areas has commenced," said Jide Idris, health commissioner for Lagos state. He said the hospital would be closed for a week and staff would be closely monitored.

According to the Lagos state Health Ministry, authorities were monitoring 59 people who were in contact with Patrick Sawyer, including at the airport — although the ministry said the airline had yet to provide a passenger list for the flights Sawyer was on.

Derek Gatherer, a virologist at Britain's University of Lancaster, said that anyone on the plane near Sawyer could be in "pretty serious danger" but that Nigeria was better positioned to tackle the outbreak than its neighbors.

"Nigerians have deep pockets, and they can do as much as any Western country could do if they have the motivation and organization to get it done," he said.

Nigeria's largest air carrier, Arik Air, has suspended flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone because of the Ebola risk, said Ola Adebanji, the airline's spokesman, in an email on Monday.

Ebola has killed 672 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since it was first diagnosed in February.

The fatality rate of the current outbreak has been about 60 percent, although the disease can kill up to 90 percent of those who catch it.

It is highly contagious, and its symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea and internal and external bleeding.

Wire services

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