Boston Hospitals on the Lookout for Ebola Virus

Dr. Kent Brantly wears protective gear at the case management center on the campus of ELWA Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia in this undated handout photograph courtesy of Samaritan's Purse. Brantly contracted Ebola and has been described as stable but suffering from some symptoms of the contagious disease, for which there is no known cure. REUTERS/Samaritan's Purse/Handout via Reuters (LIBERIA - Tags: HEALTH DISASTER) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. NO SALES. NO ARCHIVES
A doctor wears protective gear while treating Ebola in Liberia.

Boston-area hospitals are training staff to look out for symptoms of the deadly Ebola virus, since experts now fear that cases of the disease may spread beyond West Africa.

While the disease has never been found in North America, medical experts told the The Boston Globe that an outbreak in the US is not outside the realm of possibility:

“It’s such a small world now,” said Dr. Deborah Yokoe, medical director of infection control and hospital epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “We want to be prepared even though the likelihood is small.”

Ebola is spread when a person comes in contact with bodily fluids, including blood, sweat, and semen, of someone who has the disease.

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The latest outbreak has already been blamed for 729 deaths in West Africa, according to the World Health Organization. The spread of the disease has so far been contained to three countries: Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. The US Peace Corps is evacuating hundreds of volunteers from those countries. However, there have been cases that have crossed the border, leaving many airline personnel and medical practitioners around the world on heightened alert.

A Liberian infected with Ebola flew to Nigeria and died there on Friday. An American doctor in Sierra Leone has died from complications of the disease, making him the first American who has died since the deadly outbreak began in March.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent an alert to health care centers Monday that urged health workers to be on alert for symptoms of the disease in people who recently traveled to Africa.

In light of the CDC alert, Boston-area hospitals are now asking patients about their travel histories, and training staff to identify Ebola symptoms and quarantine patients if appropriate.

Initial symptoms of Ebola include sudden fever, weakness, muscle pain, headache, and sore throat. Infected patients eventually experience vomiting, diarrhea, and unusual bleeding. There is no known cure.

While most American medical facilities have the protective equipment and protocol in place to prevent transmission, those practices are less common in Africa. Some cultures also include touching and hugging the deceased as part of the grieving process, which contributes to the spread of the virus.