Short answer? No.
And yet, after a patient in New York City was tested for Ebola, this was the screaming headline in the New York Daily News:
The patient did not have the symptoms of Ebola.
But, if you're worried about Ebola, these three facts should put your mind at ease:
1. Ebola is hard to spread. It's only transmitted through bodily fluids, much in the same way as HIV is transmitted. The symptoms, according to the World Health Organization, include vomiting, diarrhea and a rash. The kidneys and liver don't work as well. And there can be bleeding, both inside and outside of the body. Obviously, there's a chance that a person who's bleeding or throwing up could get fluids on someone else, which is why most caregivers and doctors wear protective suits and ski goggles to keep out of the way of those fluids. By way of comparison, Tuberculosis and SARS are much easier to spread, since they're airborne. But if you're not coming in direct contact with an Ebola patient, there's practically no chance that you'll get it. "We have an inordinate amount of safety associated with the care of (these patients)," said Dr. Bruce Ribner, a professor at Emory School of Medicine's Infectious Diseases Division who will be helping treat two Americans who are being treated in Atlanta. "We do not believe that any healthcare worker, any other patient, or any visitor is in any way at risk of acquiring this infection."
2. The number of actual Ebola cases is relatively small. The outbreak is limited, at this point, to four West African countries: Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The World Health Organization has confirmed 1,603 cases there. Of them, 887 people have died. This is the largest outbreak of Ebola to date, and the WHO says it's going to spend $100 million to stop its spread. But compared to other infectious diseases, the number of deaths is relatively small. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more people die each day from diarrhea than have died from Ebola, ever.
3. Public health systems are much stronger in the United States than in West Africa. Many patients in West Africa have not been isolated from family members, and some caregivers haven't taken the proper precautions to protect themselves. In many cases, that's how Ebola has been spreading from person-to-person. By comparison, when a sick man came in to the emergency room at Carolinas Medical Center last week and said he'd just come back from Africa, part of the ER was roped off as a precaution. The man likely had malaria, which isn't spread from person to person, and was sent home. In addition, most hospitals have what are known as isolation rooms, where air can enter but only leaves through an exhaust system that's filtered before it's released. Many airports also have similar rooms, controlled by the CDC, to quarantine travelers who may pose a risk. In addition, hospitals are used to handing disease that spread in the same way as Ebola. "We are not talking about some mystical pathogen," said Dr. Ribner. "We are talking about a virus spread in a way we're used to."
So why are people so scared of Ebola? For one thing, Ebola has gruesome effects on people who contract it. The best selling 1995 book The Hot Zone described them in detail. For most Americans, it was their first introduction to a disease that was mostly unknown before. Part of the concern now is over the public perception of the disease, as well as the disease itself: