Mali is not suffering a widespread Ebola outbreak. But federal officials are growing increasingly alarmed about a new cluster of seven illnesses in Mali that have left health public health workers scrambling to track and monitor at least 450 other people who may have had contact with the seven people and may be at risk.
"At this point we can't be confident that every exposed person has been identified, or that every identified person is being monitored daily," said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Starting Monday, anyone arriving in the United States from Mali will undergo the same screening procedures that were ordered last month for travellers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. That includes taking arriving travellers' temperatures, and questioning them about their health and possible exposure to the Ebola virus. They also will be asked to provide contact information and to agree to — for 21 days — have daily communications with local health officials who will be asking them to take their temperatures twice each day and monitoring them to see if they develop symptoms.
West Africa is currently suffering the worst Ebola outbreak in world history, with at least 14,000 illnesses and more than 5,100 deaths so far. Nearly all of the cases have been in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. About 75 people arrive from those three countries each day, on average. They are funneled through five airports — two in New York and one each in Washington, Chicago and Atlanta.
In contrast, only about 15 to 20 passengers arrive from Mali to the United States on an average day. The majority end up arriving through the same five airports. But in the next few days, steps will be taken to make sure all funnel through those airports, Frieden said.
The CDC is quickly expanding its staffing in Mali, with at least four people there as of Sunday and about a dozen expected to be in place within the next couple of days, agency officials said.
The most common symptoms of the epidemic strain of Ebola include fever, headache and vomiting and diarrhea. People are only considered to be infectious while they are suffering symptoms, which can begin anywhere from two to 21 days after a person is infected.
The CDC has not advised against travel to Mali, and noted the latest cases are in Bamako and a rural village. The CDC is warning travellers to Mali to avoid contact with blood or body fluids from anyone who might be sick with Ebola or who recently died from the disease.