County health agencies ramp up for emerging disease threat

October 9th, 2014

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (October 9, 2014). – Protecting Allen County residents from emerging disease threats is a core function of the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health, but we do not do it alone.

Together with our community partners, including Lutheran Health Network and Parkview Health, we have demonstrated our ability to respond rapidly and effectively to serious infectious diseases such as H1N1 flu, multidrug-resistant TB, hepatitis A, monkeypox and chikungunya.

“As we are all too aware, any infectious disease in the world is only a plane ride away,” says Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan.

Ever since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) announcement on Sept. 30 of the first Ebola case to be diagnosed in the U.S. in Dallas, we have been preparing to respond to this latest disease threat should the need arise.

Although it is highly unlikely there would be an Ebola case in our community, our hospitals and healthcare settings remain alert and ready to provide care, if necessary.

Processes are in place to assess patients with travel history or other known risk factors of Ebola who seek care at local hospitals and to do the appropriate testing, infection control, and contact tracing that would be needed to prevent the spread of the disease. Public and private healthcare workers and first responders are also reviewing their internal procedures and training staff on use of personal protective equipment, isolating ill patients and disposing of waste.

In accordance with CDC guidelines, patients who present at area hospitals with fever and other symptoms associated with Ebola and who have other known risk factors may be isolated.  Any decisions to test a patient for Ebola infection would be made in conjunction with local and state health officials and the CDC after a careful and thorough review of the patient’s symptoms and risk factors.

Healthcare providers are required to report any cases of illness that might pose a risk to the public, and the Department of Health is ready to assist these facilities with testing, treatment, and infection control guidance and to identify and monitor all persons who have had close personal contact with an ill patient.

“People are understandably concerned about the Ebola threat,” McMahan says. “But using the core public health principles of surveillance, investigation, education and infection control, we have proven that we can prevent disease outbreaks with minimal risk to our residents.”

While it’s important to acknowledge people’s fears, it’s also important to put the risk into context. Allen County residents are far more likely to be exposed and become ill from the flu or other respiratory viruses that circulate this time of year than a foreign disease threat such as Ebola.

That is why it is so important that people practice good prevention measures such as getting an annual flu shot, washing their hands regularly and staying home from work or school if they are sick.

About Ebola

Ebola, previously known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, is a rare and deadly disease caused by infection with one of the Ebola virus strains. It was firstdiscovered in 1976 in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since then, there have been sporadic outbreaks in Africa. The current outbreak in multiple countries in West Africa is the largest in history. Ebola is only spread through direct contact with bodily fluids of a sick person or exposure to objects such as needles that have been contaminated.  Ebola is not transmitted through the air, water or, in general, by food; however, in Africa, Ebola may be spread as a result of handling bushmeat (wild animals hunted for food) and contact with infected bats. Ebola is not contagious until symptoms appear, which can occur two to 21 days after exposure. Symptoms may include fever greater than 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit, severe headache, muscle pain, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal (stomach) pain, and unexplained hemorrhage (bleeding or bruising). There is no vaccine or specific treatment for Ebola.

Contact: John Silcox, (260) 449-7395, john.silcox@allencounty.us