By Brittney Jackson | The Duquesne Duke
The Allegheny County Health Department is collaborating with hospitals, health care providers, emergency medical technicians and clinics to make sure employees can identify the Ebola virus.
According to Allegheny County Emergency Services Chief Alvin Henderson, there will be emergency disease screening during 911 calls. Callers who indicate they are unwell will be asked if they have a fever higher than 101 degrees.
If responders say yes, they will be asked if they have traveled outside the country in the past 21 days, if they have made contact with anyone who traveled outside the country in the past 21 days and if they know anyone with Ebola.
If these answers suggest a person may have Ebola, first responders will have the proper personal protective equipment. Henderson said he wants to ensure concerns are addressed properly and that people remain calm.
The UPMC hospital system has also implemented precautions in the event of a potential Ebola patient. UPMC spokeswoman Allison Hydzik said UPMC will also screen individuals who come to an emergency room with a mild fever and ask if they have traveled to West African countries with the Ebola outbreak in the past 21 days or had contact with someone who had Ebola.
UPMC is currently unaware of any Ebola patients in Pennsylvania, according to Hydzik. She said the likelihood that an Ebola patient will arrive in Allegheny County is very low.
In a press release, Jim Gill, acting executive director of the Allegheny County Airport Authority, said the airport is prepared in the event that an Ebola patient arrives in Allegheny.
The epidemic of Ebola in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, coupled with the death of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital patient Thomas Eric Duncan and subsequent contraction of Ebola by two nurses, has resulted in widespread panic about the disease.
Allegheny County Health Department medical epidemiologist Kristen Mertz said the high mortality rate of Ebola is most likely the largest fear. There are now five known strands, four of which make people sick and one that only affects primates. The mortality rate ranges from 50 to 90 percent.
Since Ebola was discovered in 1976, there have been several outbreaks. The current outbreak in West Africa, responsible for more than 4,500 deaths, is the largest outbreak of the disease since its discovery. Mertz said the lack of quality health care causes the fatality rate to be higher than if the outbreak were in the United States.
Mertz said this is not the first time Allegheny County has prepared for outbreaks. In 2012 there was an outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Symptom in the Arabian Peninsula. People who worked in Saudi Arabia traveled to the United States with the disease, which prompted hospitals to prepare.
In the event that someone in Allegheny County has Ebola, Mertz said the person would be placed in isolation immediately and be tested by state laboratories and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If that person tested positive, the health department would then contact anyone the patient contacted so those people could be monitored.
“If you have not been in contact with someone with Ebola or traveled to the West African countries with the Ebola outbreak in the past 21 days, the chances you have Ebola are nonexistent,” Hydzik said. “However, we are entering flu and cold season and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that between 3,000 and 49,000 people in the United States die of the flu annually.”