The current Ebola virus outbreak took a dark turn over the weekend after an American physician providing aid in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was potentially exposed to the virus. The doctor, whose name is currently being withheld, was flown from the DRC to Omaha, Nebraska in order to undergo monitoring and treatment, if necessary, according to a press release from the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC)—the facility where the individual will be cared for. The hospital has confirmed that, at this time, the physician is not exhibiting any symptoms of Ebola.
“This person may have been exposed to the virus but is not ill and is not contagious,” said Ted Cieslak, M.D., infectious diseases specialist with Nebraska Medicine and associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health. “Should any symptoms develop, the Nebraska Medicine/UNMC team is among the most qualified in the world to deal with them.”
UNMC stated that the doctor’s transport from the DRC to Omaha is being conducted by a joint team of private entities along with “federal, state, and county public health officials.” This will not be the first time the staff at UNMC will work with a person who has been exposed to the hemorrhagic fever-inducing virus. During the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, UNMC treated three infected patients, according to a report from USA Today.
“In the years since the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Africa, infectious disease experts from Nebraska Medicine and its academic partner, the UNMC, have taken a leading role in training other health care workers across the U.S. and around the world in dealing with infectious diseases such as Ebola,” the UNMC press release reads.
Many falsely believe that no treatment for Ebola exists; however, although there is not a definitive “cure,” medical workers have several options to manage the patient’s symptoms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), treatment for Ebola patients includes intravenous (IV) fluids, oxygen therapy, and pharmacological treatments to maintain blood pressure; ease nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea; manage pain; and reduce fever. Ebola also severely weakens a patient’s immune system, so physicians treat for secondary infections.
It is not clear by which organization the physician in question is employed. The CDC and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), along with other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), have personnel in the DRC. However, as violence in Ebola-affected regions continues to ramp up, some NGOs have suspended operations. According to a report from USA Today, the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief (OXFAM) recently put its operations in the area on hold. As relief workers begin to pull out, the possibility for the virus to spread becomes greater.
“This could mean Ebola spreading to even more people and potentially other countries in the region, putting many more lives at risk,” said OXFAM’s Raphael Mbuyi, acting country director in the DRC, while speaking to USA Today.