Contact Tracking and Public Health Infrastructure, Not Banning Flights, Are Key to Stopping Chain of Ebola Transmission; Michigan Expert Explains


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Newswise — "Not only would [banning flights] not be effective, I think it could be detrimental to the overall efforts," says Dr. Eden Wells, Associate Director for the Preventive Medicine Residency at University of Michigan School of Public Health.

"We need to be able to get resources in and out of these countries to break the chain of transmission," Dr. Wells continues. "We might feel good by trying to close down borders, but in fact I think it would be a very false sense of security."

"People will still travel," Dr. Wells concludes, "...border closure is not the answer."

Comparing the outbreak in West African nations Liberia and Sierra Leone to the successful response in Nigeria, where the outbreak has been largely contained, Dr. Wells points out the key to stopping the chain of transmission.

"We're learning quite a lot [from Nigeria]," Dr. Wells says. For example, "with good contact tracing, with people on the ground finding every person who has been in contact with an Ebola patient, there is a way to stop the chain of transmission and to stop the spread of disease.

"It requires what I call 'shoe leather' epidemiology," Dr. Wells says. "People getting out on the ground, finding these contacts, talking to them, monitoring them closely...That requires a public health infrastructure which Nigeria was able to implement."

On the subject of public health infrastructure and funding to deal with the threat of Ebola within the United States, Dr. Wells says, "when public health is working well, people don't notice us. Often there can be complacency over time if we don't see harms or threats in our own locale."

"But when disease becomes overwhelming, or frightening," she continues, "it's a sign that we need to keep the basic public health infrastructure funded, trained, and ready to operate. We need to be able to respond the second a case comes into our country."

The bottom line for Ebola preparedness in the U.S. is, according to Dr. Wells, "if you can get public health on the ground, then we can get control of this epidemic.

"You have to interrupt that chain of transmission."

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