Dr. Mitch Wolfe testifies today at a Senate Foreign Relations subommittee hearing on the Ebola outbreak in Africa. (Photo: Senate Finance Committee) Dr. Mitch Wolfe testifies today at a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing on the Ebola outbreak in Africa. (Photo: Senate Finance Committee)

The Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is still out of control, but people in the United States should be safe, mainly because the number of people who come here from the DRC on a typical day is small, a top federal public health official told Congress today.

Dr. Mitch Wolfe, chief medical officer at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), talked about the potential risk to the United States at a hearing on the outbreak organized by the Senate Foreign Relations health subcommittee.

(Related: 5 Questions About Life Insurance for 2019)

Ebola is a viral illness spread through bodily fluids. It can kill people by causing severe internal bleeding. The World Health Organization has estimated that it has killed about half of the people known to have contracted the disease.

The current outbreak is the 10th and largest outbreak in the DRC, and the second largest outbreak the world’s public health authorities have detected since they learned about the disease, in 1976, Wolfe said, in the written version of his testimony.

The current outbreak began Aug. 1, 2018. As of July 21, public health authorities in the DRC and Uganda had recorded 2,592 cases, with 1,737 deaths, for a 67% fatality rate, Wolfe said in his written testimony.

Wolfe noted in his written testimony that the DRC areas most heavily affected by Ebola are facing armed conflict, crime and civil unrest, and that the poor security situation has probably hurt Ebola case reporting. The actual number of Ebola cases may be much larger than the recorded numbers, he said.

Officials in Uganda have detected Ebola in three members of one family who crossed into Uganda from the DRC in June, Wolfe said in his written testimony.

Wolfe said during the hearing, which was streamed live on the web, that public health authorities have never before head to deal with a known Ebola outbreak occurring in a densely populated area, with busy borders, in a region with poor security.

“It is not yet under control at this time,” Wolfe said at the hearing.

Wolfe said in his written testimony that the risk to the United States appears to be low because only 43 travelers come to the United States from the DRC on an average day, and most of those DRC travelers come from areas of the DRC not affected by the Ebola outbreak.

Safeguards

Wolfe said one way the CDC guards the United States against Ebola risk is by implementing routine border health security measures at U.S. ports of entry, and by issuing a Level 2 travel health notice for the DRC.

The notice informs travelers and others about the outbreak and the precautions they should take when traveling to affected areas of the DRC, Wolfe said.

The CDC has also distributed Ebola testing kits across the United States, and it has given health care facilities guidance about how to manage Ebola cases, Wolfe said.

He said the U.S. State Department has identified the affected region in the DRC as a “do not travel” zone, both because of Ebola and because of the armed conflict, crime and civil unrest in the region.

Why the DRC Ebola Outbreak Matters to U.S. Agents

Ebola is one of the contagious illnesses that life reinsurance company executives mention when they are discussing the possibility of unexpected, catastrophic health insurance morbidity risk, and catastrophic life insurance mortality risk.

The Washington Post reported in 2014 that Nebraska Medical Center spent $1.16 million to care for two patients with Ebola and to keep the Ebola virus from spreading to staff members and other patients.

Jocelyn Herstein and other researchers reported in 2016, in Emerging Infections Diseases, that setting up Ebola treatment centers, in response to a small number of cases that cropped up in the United States in 2014, cost $1.2 million per hospital, or a total of $54 million for the 47 hospitals that responded to their survey.

Resources

Links to hearing resources, including a video recording of the hearing, are available here.

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