This weekend may mark a turning point in the Ebola panic that has gripped the United States for the past few weeks. On Sunday evening, Louise Troh and her family will be released from quarantine. Louise Troh is the longtime girlfriend of Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to die of Ebola in the United States. Unbeknownst to Troh, Duncan had contracted Ebola shortly before he left their native Liberia. Troh has likened the quarantine, which includes twice daily temperature readings by government health care workers, to imprisonment.
When news broke that Thomas Eric Duncan had Ebola and was being treated at Texas Presbyterian Hospital, Americans were understandably fearful. The Ebola virus spreads quickly, can kill quickly, and at some stages may look like a more benign viral infection. Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and the Obama Administration denied the possibility of a widespread epidemic like the ones in Sierra Leone and Liberia, but fears only intensified when two nurses who cared for Thomas Eric Duncan contracted Ebola, one of whom flew to Ohio just after her symptoms developed. Both nurses, Nina Pham and Amber Joy Vinson, are now being treated at facilities that specialize in treating Ebola and other series viral diseases.
The fears turned into a panic when it was revealed that Vinson may have had a temperature of 99 degrees when she flew to Ohio before she was identified as having Ebola. According to the National Institute of Health, a person is not considered to have a fever until their body temperature reaches 100.4°F (38°C), but that information isn’t likely to comfort the 132 passengers who will receive a call from the CDC because they may have been exposed to Ebola. The CDC may also contact people who have had close contact with them, all of whom will likely need at least voluntary quarantine.
Typically, a person who has contracted Ebola will show symptoms 10 to 12 days after exposure, but according to the World Health Organization, symptoms of Ebola hemorrhagic fever can develop in as few as two days or as many as 21.
As the death toll in West Africa continues to rise, fears continue to mount. A woman vomited on a train platform in Dallas, prompting the station to close because she was reportedly on a checklist for possible Ebola exposure. No such check list exists, according to The Chicago Tribune. About 50 students at Southwest College in Chula Vista, California, were quarantined for four hours after an ill student claimed she’d flown with Vinson and may have had Ebola. The student recanted shortly thereafter.
The remainder of the staff who treated Thomas Eric Duncan, 48 people according to officials, will be released from quarantine. For those families, life can return to normal, but for the families exposed after Thomas Eric Duncan went to Texas Presbyterian Hospital, the next few weeks will be full of waiting and hoping.
When the smoke clears, several hundred people may be under quarantine because of their exposure to either Thomas Eric Duncan, Nina Pham, or Amber Joy Vinson.