Local health, airline officials follow Ebola precautions

PARKERSBURG – With the major Ebola outbreak in West Africa, fear of the disease spreading around the world and to the United States has caught up with officials in the Mid-Ohio Valley.

“As far as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is concerned, we are doing all we are asked by sending word to local healthcare providers about what may be Ebola and what to do for the patients,” said Jessica Woods, regional epidemiologist with the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department. “Unless the patient presents with a fever, sweats, vomiting and other flu-like symptoms after having returned from Africa, there is little chance they have Ebola.”

On Monday, CNN reported a second American with Ebola, Missionary Nancy Writebol who contracted the disease in Liberia, is expected to arrive in Atlanta today.

It can take up to 21 days after exposure to the virus for symptoms to appear. Known symptoms include fever, sore throat, muscle pains and headaches. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea follow with severe internal and external bleeding in advanced stages of the disease.

More than 880 people have died while at least 1,600 have been infected with the disease since the worst outbreak in history began in March, according to the World Health Organization.

So far, Ebola has been found in 10 west Africa countries, including Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ebola has a death rate of 60 to 90 percent. No cure exists, but it is believed an experimental drug, ZMapp, was given with positive results to Americans Dr. Kent Brantley and missionary Nancy Writebol before they left Liberia.

Brantley was able to walk out of the ambulance Saturday and into Emory University Hospital in Atlanta where he is in an isolation unit. Writebol is expected to arrive in Atlanta today.

Although the CDC has issued a travel alert for countries where the disease is known to be, stating nonessential people should put off travel to the region for now, CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden said it is not because the disease is so easily spread.

“It’s much more difficult to contract Ebola than the common cold or the flu,” said Woods. “It is spread by exposure to blood and bodily fluids and not airborne as the majority of the communicable disease we see here.”

The majority of the people who have contracted Ebola have been caring for family members as their illness worsens, Frieden said.

“As people become sicker and sicker, they are continued to be cared for by family who then contract the disease,” he said.

Frieden said the most important thing to do to protect Americans is to stop Ebola in Africa, but a few cases could make their way across the Atlantic Ocean via flights.

The CDC has issued Ebola guidance for airlines that lists ways of stopping ill travelers from boarding aircraft, management of ill people on aircraft if Ebola is suspected, reporting ill travelers and what to do if exposed while on an aircraft.

People who have been exposed to Ebola virus disease should not travel on commercial airplanes until there is a period of monitoring for symptoms of illness lasting 21 days after exposure, according to the CDC. Sick travelers should delay travel until cleared to travel by a doctor or public health authority.

“As of right now, we have no special precautions,” said Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport manager Jeff McDougle. “We have no direct flights in or out of Africa, which helps us.

“If someone does make it through our airport sick, they had to have gone through a larger, international airport first, which is frightening,” he added.

Although there have been no official government changes to flights, some airlines that provide services to countries in West Africa have suspended flights and American airports have quarantine stations at all major points of entry, Frieden said.

Travelers believed to be infected will be flagged by the flight crew will be quarantined while those who become ill after arrival in the U.S. should seek medical care.

“If we do see a case of Ebola in the Mid-Ohio Valley, it will be very rare and as long as healthcare workers stay within contact precautions, there really is no risk,” Woods said. “I think the majority of the reason it has spread so well in Africa is they don’t have the training or readily-available supplies we have.

“If it does reach the States, we can keep it from becoming a problem just by following precautions,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.