Washington - The likelihood of a significant outbreak of Ebola in the US is remote, in the view of a top Health and Human Services official who is assuring lawmakers that government agencies are preparing for any contingency.
The comments on Ebola from Dr Nicole Lurie, assistant HHS secretary for preparedness and response, came in prepared testimony for a hearing Friday by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Lurie's statement was written before news broke late on Thursday of a fourth Ebola case diagnosed in the US — a doctor in New York City who had treated patients in Guinea.
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That was certain to prompt renewed fears over Ebola and more questions from lawmakers. Republicans in particular have questioned the Obama administration's response to Ebola, and the hearing, taking place less than two weeks before the midterm elections, was likely to feature more criticism.
Republicans have called for a travel ban and quarantines of travellers arriving here from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the hot spots for the epidemic that has killed thousands in Africa.
The Obama administration has resisted such steps even while increasing screening of travellers arriving here and ensuring that they are monitored for 21 days, the incubation period for the deadly disease.
"Ebola is a dangerous disease, but there is hardly a reason for panic," Lurie said. "There is an epidemic of fear, but not of Ebola, in the United States."