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How the U.S. is equipped to isolate Ebola – Part 2

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    U.S. Navy engineers have now broken ground on a new Ebola facility in Liberia to house 25 patients.

    Dr. Tom Frieden is the director of the Centers for Disease Control, the government's top point person on all of this. And he joins me now for the latest.

    So, local officials are saying that there is a possibility that a second person — is that confirmed?

    DR. THOMAS FRIEDEN, Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Absolutely not.

    We're in the early stages of the investigation. This is going to be a very intensive set of work. Today, our team on the ground interviewed about 100 workers at the hospital to really parse out, were people exposed, and if so how, so that we can make sure we have a roster of everyone who was exposed and then track each one of them for 21 days to see if they become ill.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    OK. So tracking is not the same as quarantining. You said, for example, while we were watching the videotape that those ambulance workers are not under quarantine now?

  • DR. THOMAS FRIEDEN:

    The details really have to be worked out locally. Our general approach is to say, if someone has been exposed, they need to check their temperature twice a day. We would check their temperature at least once a day. And then if there are any symptoms at all, they need to be isolated immediately.

    But the bottom line here is that we know how to stop Ebola. We have two things in this country that they don't have and they need in West Africa. One is good infection control in health care facilities, so it doesn't spread there. And the second is good core, tried-and-true public health. Find contacts, trace them, monitor them. If they're sick, isolate them.

    If you do those two things, you can stop Ebola, and that's what I'm confident will happen here.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And so also about those five children that were reported to have had contact with the person that's infected, any idea how we monitor that and all the people that those children might touch?

  • DR. THOMAS FRIEDEN:

    Very important point to be clear about. If someone is exposed to a person with Ebola, they cannot spread it to others unless they get sick and until they get sick. So even if you have been exposed, if you're not sick, you're not shedding the virus. You can't make other people sick.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    OK, so one of the things we have been hearing consistently is that there is this travel that's happening outside of countries, outside of West Africa. Why not — there's a bunch of questions that we had on Facebook. Why do they continue to let people travel back and forth? Shouldn't there be restrictions at least until the situation is under control in Africa? That came from Annemarie Casey on our Facebook page.

    How do you control it?

  • DR. THOMAS FRIEDEN:

    Well, First off, months ago, we recommended that Americans restrict nonessential travel.

    But, paradoxically, if we were to isolate the country from others, that's actually going to increase risk to the rest of the world. You have to think it through for a minute. To get there, you have to fly. To fly, you have to have airlines going and coming back. If people there feel that they're isolated from the rest of the world, they will leave more.

    So, both within countries and between countries, if we try to seal borders, we're going to do more harm than good. We're going to spread the disease more than we stop spread of it. This is something that's very important to understand. It's crucial to isolate patients, but isolating communities or countries is counterproductive.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And when you have isolated this patient now that is in the U.S., and as you have increased the kind of depth of your dive on who he has touched, what are pieces of information that you have learned now?

  • DR. THOMAS FRIEDEN:

    Well, it will be days, as we interview others and follow and get more information, until we know how many people really might have been exposed.

    We take kind of a concentric circle approach. Who are those who really did have a lot of contact, who we are going to need to be very careful to monitor? Who are those who might have just had the slightest of contact, but out of an abundance of caution, we're going to also monitor? That's something that we will be sorting through over the next day or two.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    What kind of treatment is he likely to get?

  • DR. THOMAS FRIEDEN:

    Well, it turns out that, for Ebola, even without experimental medicines, there is a lot that can be done just to improve the patient's outcome by providing fluids and balancing their electrolytes, that kind of intensive care that gets provided.

    We're really hoping for his recovery, but, last we heard, he was quite sick.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    OK. And we have heard that he might have come in contact with as many as 100 people. Is that true?

  • DR. THOMAS FRIEDEN:

    I have not heard that number. There are a lot of rumors, rumors about cases, rumors about contacts. Let's take things one step at a time.

    What we know is, we have one patient with Ebola in the U.S. He is being cared for in a hospital in isolation. We're going to identify who might have had contact with him, and we will have that information over the next day or two.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Given the kinds of laws of probability and the number of people who are traveling aircraft all over the world, is it statistically likely that there might be others, whether they're coming to the United States or elsewhere?

  • DR. THOMAS FRIEDEN:

    I think, with what we're seeing in West Africa, with many thousands of cases, it is highly likely that we will see Ebola in other parts of the world, particularly neighboring countries or other parts of Africa.

    Even if you were to stop flights — and that's not being done — but, even if you were, people travel. They travel by various routes, over land. Borders are porous. They have sometimes citizenship in multiple countries. So this idea that we can somehow seal it off is not going to work. We have to recognize that the way to keep ourselves safe is to help stop the outbreak there.

    That's the most effective. In fact, that's the only way that we're going to ensure that we're safe. So, yes, we're going to do things here, but we have got to address the problems there.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, Dr. Tom Frieden, head of the CDC, thanks so much.

  • DR. THOMAS FRIEDEN:

    Thank you.

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