With every response to the threat of Ebola outbreak sending shockwaves of fear, confusion, and disapproval among skeptics and concerned citizens alike, the University of Arizona has begun to equip itself to handle a potential Ebola crisis.

Dr. Andy Theodorou, a chief medical officer with the University of Arizona Medical Center, addressed an auditorium packed with medical staff: “This is a big deal. We’re going to be prepared.”

“We’re not going to get caught by surprise,” he concluded.

This plan incorporates a screening process which examines a given subject’s past travel history within the last 21 days. Further, education on the proper protocol for preventing the spread of the disease, along with how to appropriately treat a patient once they’ve been confirmed to have Ebola, will be essential steps in controlling any potential outbreaks.

Despite these precautions, Dr. Sean Elliot confirms that the risk of Ebola in Arizona, particularly the southwestern region, is especially low due to the area’s extremely low population of those from West Africa along with the low number of travelers and tourists in the area. However, he emphasized the point that “we want to reassure the public… (that) our threat assessment is zero.”

Cause for concern

One of the most worrying aspects about the possible Ebola outbreak that stands before the United States, and one which no doubt has in some part resulted in the University of Arizona’s swift response, is the precedence of outbreaks which have afflicted American society – most of which offering fewer warning signs than Ebola.

“We have to work now so (that Ebola) is not the world’s next AIDS,” announced Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, during a recent meeting of the World Bank in Washington D.C. . Many have drawn parallels between the Ebola threat with that of the AIDS epidemic which threatens millions of people worldwide today, mostly due to some similarities such as their spread through bodily fluids and latency periods.

Comfortingly, the latency period in Ebola is much shorter and contagion is only possible when those who are infected are symptomatic. Disturbingly, the range of bodily fluids which contain the Ebola virus is much broader, including congestion, saliva, sweat, vomit, and bodily waste.

In a worst case scenario, Ebola has a significantly higher chance of causing an uncontrolled outbreak situation than HIV could. But with relatively small amounts of travel through Arizona, Ebola is far more likely to impact states with dense metropolitan regions if a widespread outbreak were to occur. In fact, the Arizona Department of Health has been in the process of selecting a hospital to aid Ebola patients rather than limiting travel to those who might carry the virus.

Looking forward

While the American public is heavily divided on where the United States should stand in assistance to those who are afflicted with Ebola, as well as whether travel sanctions or quarantines should be applied or avoided, President Barack Obama has stated that mandatory quarantines for healthcare workers should be avoided at all costs.

This is motivated, in large part, to avoid discouraging organizations like the Arizona Department of Health as well as individual health workers / volunteers from aiding those who desperately need assistance. However, there is concern among skeptics that this could leave the U.S. more vulnerable to an outbreak scenario.

Given that the nation’s healthcare system will require in excess of one million new and replacement nurses by 2016 to sustain our healthcare needs (illustrated in an infographic provided by University of Arizona’s College of Nursing), the nation could be particularly vulnerable if an outbreak situation were to occur.

While a crisis may be unlikely in Arizona now, the debate between those who want to aid in the Ebola crises around the world and those who believe that the U.S. should remain isolated grows more heated in the state along with the rest of the nation.


Brett Chesney is an avid proponent of fitness and questionably healthy amounts of video games. Connect with Chesney on his Twitter @DammitChesney