As history's deadliest Ebola outbreak continues to spread, facilities around the world have been on high alert for anyone suspected of carrying the deadly disease. In the U.S. alone, hospitals and labs have reported at least 68 scares in three weeks, according to CDC.
As of Aug. 19, at least 2,240 people have been infected since March 2014 and 1,229 have died, says the World Health Organization. All cases so far have been contracted in Guinea, Nigeria, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
The first U.S. scare was at Carolinas Medical Center in North Carolina in late July, when a patient traveling from West Africa came down with Ebola-like symptoms. The patient was later deemed Ebola-free.
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Since then, hospitals in 27 states have alerted CDC of possible cases. Of the 68 reported scares:
- 58 were deemed "false alarms" by the CDC;
- Seven involved blood samples sent to the CDC that were tested and found negative for virus; and
- Three involved blood samples sent to the CDC that were tested and the results are pending.
One of the pending cases involves a patient at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Sacramento who has been isolated in a negative pressure room while officials await blood test results. Another patient at the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque has been isolated after suffering Ebola-like symptoms following a trip to Sierra Leone.
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To determine whether an Ebola scare needs to be investigated, CDC first speaks with someone familiar with the patient's history to determine whether he or she needs to be blood tested, according to agency spokesperson Kristen Nordlund.
"If somebody had traveled to Guinea and came back and had a fever and has never been to a place where Ebola is transmitted, there's no reason to suspect there's Ebola just because Ebola is circulating in Guinea," says Nordlund, adding CDC takes suspected cases seriously but has to weed out some cases.
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U.S. Ebola patients are released
In related news, the two U.S. Ebola patients were released from the hospital today, CDC officials say.
The two patients—physician Kent Brantly and Samaritan's Purse medical missionary Nancy Writebol—were flown from West Africa to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta after they contracted the virus. There, they were treated in a special infectious disease unit. They received a serum called ZMapp—a "cocktail of antibodies that have the capability of blocking the virus," according to Anthony Fauci, director of NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
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Before the two U.S. patients, the serum had only been tested on monkeys and has not been approved by the FDA.
Officials say Brantley will be discharged Thursday after two blood tests done over a two-day period came back negative for Ebola.
"If the question is, 'Did ZMapp do this?' The answer is that we just don't know," says Fauci, adding, "People who are in much less sophisticated medical care conditions in West Africa are recovering 50% of the time."
A Spanish priest who received ZMapp died of the disease earlier this month, Fauci added (Lupkin, ABC News, 8/20; Szabo, USA Today, 8/21).
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