Community healthcare authorities advise on local preparedness in the event of Ebola outbreak

by David M. Johnson

Ebola was something that was not in the conversation just six months ago. Now, it has become an issue where not only our government and health officials are nervous, but Americans are more than concerned due to the outbreak in western Africa and the death in Dallas, TX of an Ebola-infected patient.
Due to the severity of the disease, the deadly threat to humans and the absence of an effective medicine to combat infection and the spread of the infection, how safe are the citizens of one of the most advanced nations in the entire world? Are federal, state and local authorities prepared if Ebola becomes more than an isolated incident and becomes a cluster? What is Ebola, and how did it ever get to the threat it is today?
Science and medicine have in place the investigative ability to pinpoint the point of origin of a particular disease. There exists enough evidence, using historical records and DNA samples of the virus dating back to the 1950s, that HIV can be traced to 1920s Kinshasa, (formerly Leopoldville), of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. An international team of scientists led by the universities of Oxford in England and Leuven in Belgium believe that infected chimpanzee “bush meat” was sold in Kinshasa and the disease was then spread throughout the population thanks to the 600-mile railroad in the region.
Ebola, named after a river in Zaire, is believed to have first emerged in Zaire and Sudan.   Ebola’s natural reservoir has not yet been identified, but it is believed that the virus is animal borne and that bats, used as “bush meat,” are the most likely reservoir. There are five strains of Ebola that occur in an animal host native to Africa, of which four may infect humans.
What medicine has discovered so far is that Ebola is spread by an infected person having active symptoms, that direct contact with bodily fluids of a sick person will contribute to the infection being active from person to person. An individual cannot become infected with the virus through food, water or by air. The virus may develop symptoms two to 21 days, symptoms ranging from a cough and sore throat that progresses to a fever and by day five may develop to hemorrhagic (bleeding) symptoms.
The Ebola virus obstructs the important immune compound called interferon from emitting an antiviral message from entering the cell’s nucleus and triggering an immune response. By two weeks, those infected either improve rapidly or decline rapidly into a state of shock and death, about 50% to 100%, depending on what strain of Ebola one is infected with.
Those that do survive may still die from organ failure and other complications due to the infection. There is currently no vaccine or specific treatment for Ebola.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, CDC, measures taken for treatment include maintaining oxygen status and blood pressure plus the balancing of the patient’s fluid and electrolytes recommended when the infected individual is hospitalized.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC, and the Iowa Department of Health are working closely with local health care providers to ensure that communities are protected and are able to deal with the possibility of an Ebola infection at the local level. Talking points and detailed hospital checklists are provided so local hospitals are able to meet any possible emergency situation. Updated information is essential in maintaining the strategies important to fight the possible emergence of the virus and controlling any possible outbreak.
What health and government agencies do not want to see is the scenario now playing out in many of the African nations under fire with Ebola infection. Mike Myers, administrator of Veterans Memorial Hospital in Waukon, is well aware of the parameters of what an Ebola incident entails and feels that the local medical staff is prepared in case there is an Ebola emergency.
“Allamakee County has undergone training previously incorporating both law enforcement, government health agencies and the schools to respond in the event that there is a wide spread infection that occurs,” observes Myers, adding that, “previously we had practiced with possible anthrax exposure in setting up clinics for screening. The scenario has been practiced.   We feel confident that we can handle the unlikely event that Ebola would spread here in Allamakee County.”

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