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Ebola Has Arrived: Should You Panic?

We asked a professor who specializes in infectious diseases for his advice.

This week, New York City physician Dr. Craig Spencer of Columbia University tested positive for Ebola and was admitted to Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan. New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center said in a statement that Spencer has not treated or seen any patients since his return from Guinea, where he was working as part of a Doctors Without Borders program.

Five other Americans have been diagnosed with Ebola in West Africa and were since transferred to the United States for treatment. There has been just one reported case where an American - who was traveling to Nigeria from Liberia - has died from Ebola. 

Experts keep reminding us that Ebola is extremely infectious, but not extremely contagious. 

On September 30, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.) confirmed the first case of Ebola in the States. Nina Pham, one of two nurses who contracted Ebola while treating a dying patient in Dallas, was declared virus-free Friday. 

Still, the news - or hysteria - of a diagnosis in NYC panicked many people across the country. But as word of how difficult it is to pass on the virus has circulated, the number of people freaking out about it has dropped as well. 

Still, we're not just taking Twitter's word for it. 

The spread of Ebola is certainly nothing to take lightly, says University of Chicago professor Michael Z. David, Ph.D., who specializes in infectious diseases. Ebola has one of the highest mortality rates of any known infection, killing up to 90% of those who catch it.

But, David says, “While this all sounds very frightening, there’s no need to worry at this point about Ebola spreading widely here.” Thanks to the CDC and state health departments, he explains, there are strict regulations to control the spread of the virus.

“In countries where Ebola is now spreading rapidly, there’s great fear and distrust of the medical system. But here, while the disease could spread in a very limited way,” he says, “it’s likely that each infected or exposed person would be rapidly hospitalized.”

That appears to already be the case. We'll keep our fingers crossed.

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