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Editorial: No need to panic over Ebola

Ebola can be hard to diagnose because early

Ebola can be hard to diagnose because early symptoms, including red eyes and a skin rash, are common for other diseases. Credit: CDC

Ebola is a deadly virus and the outbreak in West Africa is the worst of this disease ever seen. So when a man who may be infected turned up at a Manhattan hospital Monday, it was cause for concern. But it's not time for Sharknadobola, media coverage aside. For perspective, measles kills as many people every eight days worldwide as have died from Ebola since the disease was first documented in 1976.

The unidentified man in Manhattan is unlikely to have Ebola, city health officials and doctors at Mount Sinai Hospital said. He was placed in isolation as a precaution after returning from West Africa with symptoms that included fever and gastrointestinal distress. They're right to take no chances, although their caution and candor revved up the rumor mill.

Even if Ebola did turn up in our area, the dangers are few. The only way to contract the virus is contact with tissue, blood or other bodily fluids, or through contaminated objects, such as syringes. The Ebola virus isn't airborne, so being near an infected person isn't enough to catch the disease.

The Ebola outbreak spread quickly in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea because family and friends, who first cared for and then buried their infected loved ones, were exposed to the virus. Doctors and others who treat Ebola patients are also at risk. That's how Americans Dr. Kent Brantly and aid worker Nancy Writebol got the disease. Both were flown from Liberia to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, where there are signs of an extraordinary treatment breakthrough.

The Americans were given an experimental serum that has not been tested before on humans or approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Brantly got dramatically better and Writebol has also improved. Officials should expedite formal testing to determine whether the serum is safe and effective for wider use. Ebola is raging tragically in West Africa but, fortunately, there's no sign of that happening here.