Chicago family in Liberia amid Ebola outbreak

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Chicago family in Liberia amid Ebola outbreak
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There are concerns about a virus like Ebola being just a plane ride away from the U.S., and even Chicago.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The Ebola virus causes a death so painful and horrible it is almost beyond imagination, and it's on the move.

One Chicago family has been in Liberia for about a week and a half. There are concerns about a virus like Ebola being just a plane ride away from the U.S., and even Chicago.

"Who's going to be next? That's the question. Is it my family?" said Adib George, Liberian citizen.

George is worried about his family contracting Ebola, including three Chicagoans, his aunt and two cousins, while they are visiting Liberia. They fly back to Chicago next week.

"I know they are keeping themselves safe to get back home," said George.

This is what they'll face in Liberia. Doctors are using handheld thermometers to see if departing passengers have fevers. In Guinea, they're using heat detecting cameras too. And precautions are in place at O'Hare Airport, too.

"We have checkpoints for instance at Chicago's O'Hare, so if someone comes in there we have a quarantine center there we coordinate with CDC," said Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck, Illinois Public Health Department.

Nationwide, health care workers are on alert and isolations rooms, like the one at Rush University Medical Center are ready.

Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia are the focus. On Wednesday, the Peace Corps announced it is removing 340 volunteers from that region after two workers were quarantined, and possibly exposed. And Samaritan's Purse is removing all non-essential medical staff from Liberia now that two missionaries are being treated for Ebola.

At the same time as the outbreak, African leaders are in Chicago on business, visiting the Willis Tower Wednesday night. Some will go one to meet with President Obama next week. Liberia's Consul General in Chicago just has this hope.

"The international community will be a help to our country because we don't want it to be widespread," said Alexander Gbayee, Liberian Consul General.

The head of the state health department emphasizes that the risk in Illinois is small because you must be in direct contact with an infected person's bodily fluids, like saliva or urine, to get Ebola.

No cases are reported here in the United States, but doctors here are warned to be on the alert looking for symptoms, especially in people traveling from Africa, specifically West Africa, and the countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Two Americans are being treated for Ebola: Missionary Nancy Writebol and Dr. Kent Brantley. Both are in serious condition. The fear is that Ebola may spread further. Liberia is on the front line of this outbreak in West Africa.

VIDEO: Chicago area hospitals prepared for Ebola virus

Dr. Kent Brantley works for Samaritan's Purse, a North Carolina-based Evangelical Christian charity which announced it will evacuate all non-essential personnel from Liberia.

"He knew the danger he was placing himself in and he willingly and voluntarily decided to do that," said Kent Smith, Southside Church of Christ.

More than 1,200 people have contracted the Ebola virus in West Africa and experts are calling this the largest outbreak ever. Nearly 700 people have died.

The disease isn't spread like the flu, it requires direct contact with bodily fluids.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that Americans should not panic.

"We're pretty confident that the normal isolation protocols in U.S. or western-style medicine would prevent transmission," said Dr. Stephan Monroe, CDC.

Still, the CDC is urging all doctors in the United States to be on the watch for anyone traveling from that region who may show symptoms including fever, rash, vomiting and diarrhea.

The American widow of a Liberian government official who died of Ebola last week is speaking out. She says her husband had planned to travel from Africa home to Minnesota next month.

"We've already lost Patrick and we're losing tons of people there. And we don't need that killer to come here as well," said Decontee Sawyer.

Medical experts are advising Americans to avoid traveling to West Africa.

Next week, more than 40 African leaders are coming to Washington to meet with President Obama. The White House says there are no plans to cancel that meeting.