A Few Ebola Cases Likely In U.S., Air Traffic Analysis Predicts
It’s only a matter of time, some researchers are warning, before isolated cases of Ebola start turning up in developed nations, as well as hitherto-unaffected African countries.
The current Ebola outbreak in West Africa has killed more people than all previous outbreaks combined, the World Health Organization said Wednesday. The official count ;includes about 3,600 cases and 1,800 deaths across four countries.
Meanwhile, the authors of a new analysis say many countries — including the U.S. — should gear up to recognize, isolate and treat imported cases of Ebola.
The probability of seeing at least one imported case of Ebola in the U.S. is as high as 18 percent by late September, researchers reported Tuesday in the journal PLOS Currents: Outbreaks. That’s compared with less than 5 percent right now.
These predictions are based on the flow of airline passengers from West Africa and the difficulty of preventing an infected passenger from boarding a flight.
As with any such analysis, there’s some uncertainty. The range of a probable U.S. importation of Ebola by Sept. 22 runs from 1 percent to 18 percent. But with time — and a continuing intense outbreak in West Africa — importation is almost inevitable, the researchers told NPR.
"What is happening in West Africa is going to get here. We can’t escape that at this point," says physicist Alessandro Vespignani, the senior author on the study, who analyzes the spread of infectious diseases at Northeastern University.
Image: Air traffic connections from West Africa to the rest of the world: While Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone don’t have many flights outside the region, Nigeria is well-connected to Europe and the U.S. (PLOS Currents: Outbreaks)