Identifying Everyone with Whom an Ebola Patient Has Had Contact

By Edward K. Chapnick

After a suspected Ebola patient is isolated, healthcare workers commence contact tracing, which is the process of finding everyone who has come in direct contact with that patient. Contacts are then watched for signs of illness for 21 days from the last day they came in contact with the Ebola patient.

If the contact never shows symptoms over the course of the 21 days, the contact is declared free and clear of Ebola. If the contact develops a fever or other Ebola symptoms, healthcare workers then bring the patient to a proper healthcare facility to isolate, test, and provide her care. Then the cycle starts again — all of the new patient’s contacts are found and watched for 21 days.

Contact tracing finds new cases quickly so that they can be isolated, stopping further spread of Ebola.

[Credit: CDC Public Health Image Library]
Credit: CDC Public Health Image Library

Currently, no federal law requires adherence to this process, but states and local jurisdictions are empowered to create and enforce their own, so penalties for not complying vary from state to state.