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Washington • If you thought Ebola was scary, other contagious diseases will really freak you out.
As Congress plunged into the nation's response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the two diagnosed cases in the U.S. warnings emerged that other deadly diseases could be worse and the United States should be better prepared.
"I'm concerned about our capability to deal with pandemics in general," said Rep Jim Matheson, D-Utah, who flew into Washington for the hearing. "And this is one that is not an airborne pandemic, but there are other possibilities out there that are. So I don't want to be an alarmist, but this isn't the only disease we should be concerned about."
Ebola is passed by bodily fluid and turns fatal in 70 percent of cases, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, while another concern is Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, a viral respiratory illness passed between people without contact.
"That's airborne," Matheson said. "I'm not trying to diminish the threat of Ebola this is really important and we've got to figure it out but I'm saying this has meaning for future, potential response to [other] pandemics as well."
Though Congress is on break ahead of the midterm elections, the House Energy and Commerce Committee convened to grill the head of the CDC and other officials about their ability to contain the outbreak and whether steps should have been taken to prevent Ebola from reaching U.S. shores.
"With no vaccine or cure, we are facing down a disease for which there is no room for error," said Chairman Tim Murphy, R-Pa. "We cannot afford to look back at this point in history and say we should have done more."
Current policies to investigate the outbreak and contain it were insufficient, Murphy added, and some potentially deadly mistakes occurred.
One of them was Thomas Duncan, who reportedly had minimal contact with an Ebola-infected patient in Africa before his flight to the United States. After feeling ill, Duncan tried to check into a Dallas hospital but was turned away initially. He later was admitted but died.
Daniel Varga, the chief clinical officer and senior vice president of Texas Health Resources, which ran the hospital, said Duncan's death devastated the nurses, doctors and other workers who tried to save his life.
"Unfortunately, in our initial treatment of Mr. Duncan, and despite our best intentions and a highly skilled medical team, we made mistakes," Varga said. "We did not correctly diagnose his symptoms as those of Ebola, and we are deeply sorry."
That's the point Matheson stressed: training and education.
The Utah Democrat, whose wife, Amy Herbener, is an infectious-disease pediatric physician at Primary Children's Hospital, said planning could prove vital in fighting back against the next outbreak and containing it. If hospitals, doctors, the news media and other officials are ready, the death toll would be different.
"This is complicated, in fairness to everybody involved, this is not easy," Matheson said. "If it was easy, we would have dealt with it already."