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Report: Ebola reports in US often false alarms

December 5, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) — A new government report counts hundreds of times U.S. doctors and hospitals raised false alarms about possible Ebola cases, finding that fewer than one in five warranted even additional investigation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released Friday looked at Ebola-related calls the federal agency received this year from doctors, hospitals and state and local health departments.

In most calls, it turned out the patient had neither traveled to an Ebola-affected country nor had contact with an Ebola patient.

Of 650 patients flagged to federal officials, four ended up testing positive.

But health officials say there was a national learning curve for Ebola, even for doctors and nurses, and they had no complaint about all the nervous calls.

Health care workers “had a high degree of vigilance about Ebola and a low threshold for requesting public health consultation. That’s exactly what we want,” said Dr. Alexa Oster, a CDC epidemiologist who was the study’s senior author.

The CDC report covered the period July 9 through Nov. 15 and included calls from 49 states and the District of Columbia.

Only 18 percent of the flagged patients had signs or symptoms consistent with Ebola or some risk factor that warranted further investigation, the report found.

In some cases, doctors leapt straight to Ebola as a possible diagnosis and initially did not test for malaria or other illnesses that might explain certain symptoms, the CDC found.

The calls peaked in October, following the first-ever diagnosis of an Ebola case in United States, a Liberian man who grew sick after traveling to Texas and died. Two nurses who cared for him caught the illness. They recovered, but the appearance of the deadly disease in the U.S. after a record outbreak in West Africa spurred a wave of fear.

Calls to the CDC have dropped since. Oster said health care workers and other Americans have become more familiar with the signs, symptoms and risk factors for Ebola. Also, more and more state and local health departments have begun testing for Ebola, and the CDC is not necessarily seen as the main source for help with Ebola questions, she said.

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Online:

CDC report: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr

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