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TheStreet Open House

Ebola: Health insurers stay calm but alert





Two Americans who contracted the deadly Ebola virus while on a mission in West Africa have returned to the United States, where they are being treated in a special isolation unit of an Atlanta hospital. A half a dozen other patients around the country have had their blood tested because of a concern they might have been exposed to the Ebola virus when abroad.

Ebola is a virus that spreads through contact with blood or bodily fluids. The World Health Organization says Ebola has a death rate of up to 90 percent. The current Ebola outbreak is out of control in West Africa. To date, more than 900 people have died from it.

The missionaries' return to the United States has put some people on edge: Are Americans at risk at home? But health insurance companies, which would have to bear the brunt of the cost of treatment were there to be an outbreak, don't seem worried.

Dr. Ajani P Nimmagadda, an infectious disease expert and senior medical director for Cigna, says she thinks the possibility of an Ebola outbreak in the U.S. is extremely low.

The possibility of an outbreak here is slim because of the policies and precautions that American medical centers and health care providers always take when it comes to any highly contagious diseases, she says.

Keeping everyone informed

Nonetheless, Nimmagadda says, Cigna, like all health insurance companies, takes any possibility of an outbreak seriously and works with its providers and patients to keep them informed about unusual health threats.

Cigna also continually educates its health care providers and members about what they can do to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, whether it's the flu, whooping cough or other viruses and infections. For example, she says, "We remind them of the need to wash their hands and to avoid coming in contact with bodily fluids from infected patients," she says. In today's health care settings in the U.S., she says, "you can isolate any contagious [patients] pretty effectively and you take precautions even if you didn't know what it is they might have."

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