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Mayo Clinic specialist: U.S. ebola outbreak 'unlikely'

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A Mayo Clinic infectious diseases specialist says ebola is unlikely to spread in the United State, even if it arrives with infected patients traveling from West Africa.

The real concern, said Dr. Pritish Tosh, who once worked for the Centers for Disease Control epidemiology intelligence service, should be the public health needs in West Africa — and the hundreds who have already died there.

People in the U.S. "at this point should be reassured that this outbreak is unlikely to extend into the United States where we would see community-transmission of ebola."

That's because hospitals here are able to isolate patients to prevent transmission, and infection-control methods will prevent spread of the illness.

Patients are only infectious to other people when they're sick — and usually when they're very, very ill, Tosh said.

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Mayo Clinic is not involved in research on an ebola vaccine or cure.

"However, we are, of course, ever vigilant of the possibility of emerging infections coming to our hospital and are fully prepared to identify and treat patients who could potentially show up here with ebola," Tosh said.

Patients would be isolated. In addition, health providers would wear gowns, gloves and face masks that include eye protection.

To actually contract ebola, a person must be in very-close contact with a seriously ill individual and bodily fluids such as blood, feces or vomit.

In West Africa, patients generally get sick in very rural settings and their family members provide care in close quarters without access to protective gear.

"Even though there's new treatments and vaccines that are being developed, what's going to stop this outbreak is not new technology but, rather, implementation of old technologies of hygiene and infection control, which have proven, since 1976, to be able to stop these outbreaks," Tosh said.

That's the year sporadic outbreaks began in Africa.

There needs to be a worldwide effort to address the public health needs of the region, he said.

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Mayo emergency rooms are screening patients who have recently traveled to West Africa.

Even if a patient were to attend a crowded event like a concert, it's unlikely others would get sick.

"By the time people are contagious, they are very sick and, as you can imagine, those people are not going to be going to concerts," Tosh said. To transmit the illness would still require "direct contact with blood or body fluids," he said. "Which is, again, unlikely to happen."

Ebola requires a lack of good sanitation, hygiene and infection control.

"What's been lost in this is the 1,000 West Africans who have died from this so far and the need to stop this in West Africa," Tosh said. What actually needs to happen is a worldwide emphasis on public health "to prevent another 1,000 people from dying."

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