Ebola outbreak in Congo is serious and reminds us to be vigilant

The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials held an Ebola preparedness briefing Thursday to discuss how the U.S. public health system is taking action in response to the current Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The 2014 Ebola outbreak that took place in West Africa directly affected Texans when Thomas Eric Duncan, of Liberia, flew to Dallas and ended up at a hospital where two nurses who had initial contact with him also contracted the virus. Duncan later died, the nurses survived.

Last week, the World Health Organization declared the Ebola outbreak in the DRC as a public health emergency of international concern.

So far, there have been 1,700 deaths in the DRC outbreak. 

Dr. Nathaniel Smith, president-elect of ASTHO and secretary of health at the Arkansas Department of Health, said this puts Texans at similar risk to where we were five years ago. While this current outbreak is much smaller, infected patients live closer to metro areas where travel is more common, making this outbreak different than the one that happened in West Africa in 2014.

Imelda Garcia, associate commissioner for the laboratory and infectious disease division at the Texas Department of State Health Services, added that the infectious disease is now “a plane ride away.”

Smith confirmed the chance of Ebola coming to Texas again “is not zero,” and therefore encourages doctors, clinics and hospitals to restore their Ebola preparedness plans. That includes adding signs asking patients with fever to immediately disclose their recent travel history.

Dr. David Lakey, chief medical officer for The University of Texas System and the previous commissioner of the Texas DSHS, said the public has once again become complacent and should be reminded this is a real public health concern.

Symptoms of Ebola include:

  • Fever
  • Severe headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal (stomach) pain

Lakey said Texas Children’s Hospital and the University of Texas Medical Branch are the only two Texas designated hospitals to treat Ebola in children and adults.