GALVESTON — The Ebola virus has claimed the lives of more than 3,000 in West Africa, but the virus can be contained with the proper precautions, a University of Texas Medical Branch expert said.
Tom Ksiazek, director of high containment laboratory operations for the Galveston National Laboratory, just returned from six weeks in Sierra Leone, where he led a team responding to the crisis.
The first case of Ebola in the United States was confirmed in Dallas this week, but Ksiazek said the chance of an epidemic here was “basically zero.”
There have been more than 2,000 cases and about 600 deaths in Sierra Leone. There have been as many as 3,000 deaths in the region, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
“This is clearly, without a doubt, the largest and longest (outbreak),” Ksiazek said.
However, Ksiazek said the spread of the disease could be managed.
“I worry a lot more about being in an automobile accident when I go to these outbreaks than I am about being exposed to Ebola,” he said.
The disease is spread through bodily fluids, and health care providers or family and friends in close contact with Ebola patients are at greatest risk, according to information from the Centers for Disease Control.
Ksiazek spent nearly 20 years with the Centers for Disease Control in the special pathogens branch.
In Sierra Leone, he led a team helping track and control the outbreak. The team performed several tasks, such as helping track the number, place and date of cases. It also set up a laboratory to diagnose patients and helped educate the public and health care workers on the risks and ways to avoid the disease.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends avoiding contact with blood and body fluids, avoiding handling the body of someone who has died from Ebola and monitoring the health of anyone who has traveled to the affected region for at least 21 days.
In Dallas, the Centers for Disease Control is monitoring as many as 18 people who came in contact with the original patient, Thomas Eric Duncan. Duncan had traveled to Liberia but did not have symptoms until arriving in Dallas.
Ksiazek said it may be possible that some of those in contact with Duncan may also contract the disease, but it is not likely to spread since those people are being closely monitored by health care officials.
“There is a lot of mythology surrounding these viruses,” Ksiazek said.
It’s important for people to realize that the disease is not easily transmitted, he said.
“If (people) avoid the really risky things that we try to identify for them, their chance of getting it is pretty minimal or nearly zero,” he said.