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Local response to Ebola worries

Updated: 08/06/2014 7:20 PM
Created: 08/06/2014 6:50 PM WNYT.com
By: Benita Zahn

It was a specialized plane that brought two people, infected in Liberia with Ebola to the U.S. Their situation was tightly controlled. The worry in public health circles is that a person, unknowingly, comes into this country infected with the virus and shows up at a hospital emergency room. Then what?

"We always have in place questions that we ask about; fever, foreign travel, rash. Things that would get us to sort of either mask somebody or isolate them immediately," explains   Dr. Denis McKenna, Senior VP for medical affairs and the medical director at Albany Med. He says their playbook for isolating infectious patients and protecting staff, patients and the public is being carefully reviewed.

"There's an enhanced education. Particularly our portal of entry, the emergency department are given primers and updates from our epidemiology department which is informed by the CDC."

It's much the same across town at St. Peter's Hospital where concerns about Ebola had them refocus on a particular type of protective gear. Items that protect best against body fluids.

"But it was a good opportunity to review our inventory and make sure it was all in good working condition."

Local hospitals are coordinating with state health officials and that's expected to continue and ramp up because there's no wiggle room when it comes to protecting patients and the general public.

"All serious infectious diseases keep me awake at night," says Dr. Bosco.

And with good cause.

"Well, we've learned over the years we're just an airplane ride away from a disease anywhere in the world, really."

Dr. Gus Birkhead is a practical man. As New York State's deputy commissioner of public health he's coordinated plans to battle many infectious disease situations - SARS, MERS and annually, the Flu.

That's why with concerns about Ebola, he's in regular contact with the Centers for Disease Control and local health officials.

"We've done calls with all the hospitals.. Lots of communication going on." 

 And the system is working says Birkhead. On Tuesday a person deplaned at Kennedy airport, appeared sick and was taken to the isolation room at the airport. Birkhead's office was among those called.

"Yes, there was somebody ill coming from the middle east but it was no an Ebola or SARS, it was something else. "

   This time.

That's why ongoing review of infectious disease protocols at hospital like Albany Medical Center and St. Peter's Hospital is so important.

At the entrance to the emergency departments it's clearly spelled out what to do in the event someone presents with symptoms indicative of a communicable disease. And both hospitals are very carefully asking patients if they've traveled outside the country.

And there are strict procedures in place regarding blood and other bodily fluid samples .. If Ebola is suspected, none would be tested locally.

"So what's different about Ebola is state labs don't have the capacity to test for it, only CDC at this point. "

And that's where blood and other fluid samples from a man who presented to Mt. Sinai hospital in NYC on Monday with symptoms that could indicate Ebola, were sent and tested. He does NOT have Ebola.

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