Health officials: Wake prepared, if needed, for Ebola
Posted October 6, 2014
Updated October 8, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — Should Ebola become an issue in Wake County, emergency responders and services are ready to handle any cases of the disease.
Wake County Human Services staff provided the Board of Commissioners an overview Monday afternoon of the outbreak in West Africa and efforts to prepare locally for everything from a false alarm to an outbreak.
The response plan brings together hospitals, universities, Raleigh-Durham International Airport, the Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others.
"At the local level, we have a very intentional infrastructure that is the norm," Sue Lynn Ledford, public health director, told commissioners. "It's what we do all the time. We're constantly looking at what is out there."
EMS, hospitals and others involved are always evaluating, training and improving the current plan, Ledford said.
Wake County EMS protocols released to the media detail handling a potential case of Ebola, regardless of where it originates.
"These things always happen at 3 a.m. on the weekend, and all of the players across the spectrum are operating on the same protocols, regardless of which hospitals to which we're transporting or what types of treatment need to be provided," Dr. Brent Myers, director of Wake EMS Services, said.
Already, 911 operators are screening sick callers for the virus by asking two specific questions: Has the patient traveled to Africa in the last 21 days, and does the patient have a fever?
If they meet the criteria, two ambulances and a district chief will be dispatched to their location. First responders will use head-to-toe hazmat suits, and a backup crew will use plastic sheets and duct tape to isolate a potential contamination zone.
There are also directives for isolating and quarantining patients until they arrive at a hospital.
Myers says emergency crews have also been undergone intense step-by-step training on how to respond to a sick patient on an airplane.
"It is the same plan for the RDU police, the RDU crash-fire-rescue, for the local public health (services), for the CDC and for us," he said.
Those protocols have already been tested.
A local doctor who returned from Africa recently fell ill and voluntarily quarantined himself out of concern. He tested negative for Ebola.
Although the CDC has consulted with more than 100 potentially suspicious cases of Ebola in recent month, only one person – a Liberian man traveling to America for his son's graduation – has been diagnosed with the disease in the United States.
The virus is not airborne and only becomes contagious once symptoms – including severe headache, muscle pain, vomiting or unexplained bleeding – appear. It can be spread only through direct contact with an infected patient's bodily fluids – blood, sweat, vomit, feces, urine, saliva or semen — and those fluids must have an entry point.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institutes of Health, said Sunday that an outbreak in the U.S. is unlikely because scientists know how to stop the virus from spreading.
Experts cite lack of experience with the disease, a shortage of medical supplies and personnel and widespread poverty as contributing factors to the spread of the disease in Africa.