Science and Tech


Ebola Could Spread To U.S. By End Of Month

A new analysis concludes the Ebola outbreak in West Africa could have an 18 percent chance of spreading to the U.S. by late September.
Posted at 9:28 PM, Sep 04, 2014

As the Ebola epidemic in West Africa continues to worsen at an alarming rate, health officials have issued increasingly dire warnings about the possibility of a global outbreak.

DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS INTERNATIONAL PRESIDENT JOANNE LIU VIA PBS: "Six months into the worst Ebola epidemic in history, the world is losing the battle to contain it."

CDC DIRECTOR TOM FRIEDEN VIA CNN: "Every day this outbreak goes on, it increases the risk for another export to another country."

Now, a new analysis published this week in PLOS Currents: Outbreaks has shed some light on the possibility of Ebola traveling outside of West Africa.

Using WHO data, researchers simulated potential situations where Ebola could spread to other countries by studying air traffic patterns and mobility between infected and non-infected countries. They ran simulations on two dates — Sept. 1, and Sept. 22.

Their predictions show a sharp increase in the probability of another country getting infected — at the beginning of the month, the U.S. had only a five percent chance of importing an outbreak. By the 22nd, the probability jumps up to 18 percent. (Video via Voice of America)

Study author Alessandro Vespignani told NPR, "What is happening in West Africa is going to get here. We can't escape that at this point. ... Sooner or later, they will arrive."

Now, there are a couple of important caveats to the researchers' findings. For one thing, an Ebola case reaching a developed country with an efficient healthcare system probably won't cause the mass epidemic levels we've seen in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone.

What's more, the numbers come with a pretty high probability range — so while the U.S. could have a 18 percent infection risk at the end of the month, that number could also be as low as 1 percent. Contrast that with the U.K., which has an infection risk of 25-28 percent by the end of the month. (Video via Euronews)

And while there haven't been any accidental Ebola exports to the U.S. yet, three confirmed Ebola cases have been transported inside the country. Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol were cured of the virus last month — and a third patient, Dr. Rick Sacra, is currently en route to Nebraska after contracting Ebola in Liberia.

The Ebola outbreak has already claimed more than 1,900 lives — that's more than all other previous outbreaks combined. WHO officials estimate controlling the spread of the virus could cost over $600 million.

This video includes images from Getty Images.