Researcher: 20 Percent Chance Ebola Will Spread to US Within 2 Weeks

By Charlotte Libov

A top Ebola researcher tells Newsmax Health there is a 20 percent chance that the deadly virus will begin spreading within the U.S. in the next two weeks.

Ira Longini, a professor of biostatistics at the University of Florida, was part of a team of researchers that used a mathematical model to generate projections of the epidemic spread of Ebola worldwide. The scientists took into consideration daily airline passenger travel worldwide, information about the disease’s spread rate, and other factors.
“As the Ebola outbreak in West Africa continues to spread, isolated cases will likely make their way to the United States,” Longini told Newsmax Health. “Our latest estimates show there is a nearly 20 percent chance that this will occur within two weeks.”
In the long run, the probability the fatal disease will spread here is “almost inevitable,” added Longini, who collaborated in a new Ebola analysis published in the journal PLOS Currents: Outbreaks.
Four Americans with the Ebola virus have been transported back to the U.S. for treatment after contracting the illness in Africa. Longini and his fellow researchers are developing models to predict when Ebola will likely start spreading within U.S. borders.
The tipping point may be disease levels in Nigeria, he says.
“There is not a high level of international travel from some of the affected countries such as Liberia and Sierra Leone to the U.S. But Nigeria, where the outbreak has also spread, is linked to many countries across the globe,” said Longini.
As many as 6,000 passengers travel from Nigeria to the U.S. each week, according to the study.
Although cutting off air travel from Nigeria would seem logical, Longini said it would likely only delay the inevitable. “It might slow the transmission of the virus, but it doesn’t change the probability that someone would make it through to the U.S. You can’t quarantine an entire county, so infected people will get out and eventually make their way to the U.S.,” he said.
When the virus does reach the U.S., Longini does not expect it to become a major killer.  “The U.S. has sufficient capacity to test people and treat them,” he said. “We would not expect any real transmission here.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has already put into place systems within the nation’s hospitals to recognize, treat, and contain people with the virus, Longini said.
The latest Ebola fatality count is 2,296, according to the World Health Organization, out of 4,293 known cases. The epidemic is anticipated to reach 10,000 cases by the end of September, according to a new report in the journal Science.
Ebola spreads through contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids. It can take anywhere from two to 21 days between infection and the onset of symptoms, according to the WHO.
Symptoms typically include a sudden fever, muscle weakness, and sore throat, eventually progressing to include vomiting, rash, and bleeding. There is currently no vaccine, although one is being tested and shows promise. Treatments for the illness are also in the experimental stage.
Although Ebola is likely not a major danger to Americans now, that could change if the virus mutates to a form that spreads more easily, Longini said.
“As the virus infects each person and then another and another, it could conceivably mutate,” said Longini. “The longer this situation goes on, the higher the chances are that it could become more easily transmissible and that would change the whole equation.”

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