WINCHESTER, Tenn. – – President Barack Obama and federal health and security officials vow the nation will keep the Ebola virus at bay through a series of approaches, stemming down to special procedures at the local level.
Obama reached out in a teleconference call last week to state and local elected officials with personnel from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Homeland Security chipping in to provide details about what is being done to counter the disease’s spread.
Ebola, short for Ebola virus disease or Ebola hemorrhagic fever, is a disease humans, apes and monkeys contract through what is referred to in the medical community as an “ebolavirus.”
Symptoms start two days to three weeks after contracting the virus, with a fever, sore throat, muscle pain, and headaches. Typically, vomiting, diarrhea and rash follow, along with decreased function of the liver and kidneys. Around this time, affected people may begin to bleed within the body and externally.
Although concern is high about keeping the Ebola virus contained, CDC officials said the disease is not airborne and is spread through contact with an infected person or exchanging bodily fluids. They added this will aid in limiting the disease’s spread in the United States.
The recent outbreak has killed more than 3,800 people, according to the latest World Health Organization figures. The vast majority of those deaths have been in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in West Africa.
The federal health officials said in the nationwide conference call that the country’s main airports will be groomed to screen passengers showing the virus’ symptoms, and drills will be conducted at the nation’s grassroots’ level.
Brie King, spokesperson for Southern Tennessee Regional Medical Center in Winchester, confirmed discussion has taken place to plan a drill to work through details about what could occur and how to deal with the aftermath if an Ebola infected patient were to arrive in the area.
“We don’t have a specific date yet, but I am told it will happen in two to three weeks,” she said, referring to when an Ebola countering drill may be conducted. “I asked if the media could come, and they all agreed that it would be great. If there are minors involved in the drill, we will have to have their parents sign a consent form.”
The plan the government is taking at the federal level will involve enhanced Ebola screening at five major U.S. airports where 94 percent of travelers from the Ebola-affected countries — Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone — enter the United States.
The process will also involve a new tracking program for anyone entering the United States from an Ebola-affected country.
New York’s JFK International Airport began the new screening on Saturday. In the 12 months ending July 2014, JFK received nearly half of travelers from the three West African nations. The enhanced entry screening at Washington-Dulles, Newark, Chicago-O’Hare and Atlanta international airports will be implemented this week.
“We work to continuously increase the safety of Americans,” CDC Director Tom Frieden, said in the conference call. “We believe these new measures will further protect the health of Americans, understanding that nothing we can do will get us to absolute zero risk until we end the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.”
Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson echoed Frieden’s assessment.
“(U.S. Customs and Border Protection) personnel will continue to observe all travelers entering the United States for general overt signs of illnesses at all U.S. ports of entry, and these expanded screening measures will provide an additional layer of protection to help ensure the risk of Ebola in the United States is minimized,” Johnson said. “CBP, working closely with CDC, will continue to assess the risk of the spread of Ebola into the United States, and take additional measures, as necessary, to protect the American people.”
CDC is sending additional staff to each of the five airports, and the organization stated its approach in a press release.
Travelers from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone will be escorted by CBP to an area of the airport set aside for screening.
Trained CBP staff will observe them for signs of illness, ask them a series of health and exposure questions and provide health information for Ebola and reminders to monitor themselves for symptoms. Trained medical staff will take their temperature with a non-contact thermometer.
If the travelers have fever, symptoms or the health questionnaire reveals possible Ebola exposure, they will be evaluated by a CDC quarantine station public health officer. The public health officer will again take a temperature reading and make a public health assessment. Travelers, who after this assessment, are determined to require further evaluation or monitoring will be referred to the appropriate public health authority.
—By BRIAN JUSTICE, The Herald-Chronicle Editor