HGH Ramps up Protection Protocols in Wake of Ebola Virus

Awareness and preparedness have taken on greater meaning at Humboldt General Hospital as workers there prepare for the possible advent of the Ebola virus.

All patients at the 118 E. Haskell Street facility are now being screened regarding any recent travel to West Africa.

The questions are especially important since October 1 and the advent of flu season, said HGH Infection Control Nurse Ginger Tanner.

"Early symptoms of Ebola infection are similar to the flu — fever, nausea, vomiting — so questions about travel become a critical identifying factor," she said.

Tanner said all staff members who have contact with the public have been undergoing extensive training over the past two weeks, both to help them be aware of the disease's progression and symptoms as well as the protection protocols they should employ if they suspect an infection.

A revelation that two healthcare workers in Dallas have been infected through exposure to an Ebola patient has heightened awareness among local staff.

Signs have been posted in HGH's Emergency Department, admitting area and clinics alerting patients to tell staff immediately about any travel to West Africa. Any patient with a fever who has nausea or has been vomiting will be masked and isolated from other patients, said Tanner.

"We are not taking any chances," she added.

Tanner said any patients who recently traveled to West Africa and who show Ebola symptoms will have blood taken for tests at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those patients will remain isolated until testing results are received from the CDC, a process that should take two to three days.

Hospital Preparedness Coordinator Fergus Laughridge said as soon as Thomas Eric Duncan was confirmed the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the United States, HGH officials began assessing the hospital's infection control guidelines and procedures.

"We want to stay well ahead of this," he said, "so we can protect our personnel and our community."

On Monday, October 6, Laughridge presented an emergency in-service for EMS and other patient care staff to instruct on Ebola signs and symptoms, screening guidance, necessary precautions for suspected patients, decontamination following transport of a suspected patient, and follow-up procedures.

Laughridge acknowledged the deadly disease may not become a public health threat in Humboldt County. In fact, he noted that northern Nevadans may be more at risk for numerous other infectious diseases such as influenza, enterovirus D-68 or even hepatitis C.

"But we're just not going to sit here thinking it's not going to happen to us," he said. "Our job is to raise awareness and to prepare, and over the course of that process we will become more capable at interfacing with all infectious disease, so this is certainly not lost time and effort."

Although the risk of Ebola spreading in the United States is very low, the Centers for Disease Control suggest the following precautions:

A person infected with Ebola cannot spread the disease until symptoms appear. The time from exposure to when signs or symptoms of the disease appear (the incubation period) is 2 to 21 days, but the average time is 8 to 10 days.

Signs of Ebola include fever (higher than 101.5°F) and symptoms like severe headache, muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, or unexplained bleeding or bruising.

Ebola is spread through direct contact (through broken skin or through the eyes, nose, or mouth) with blood and body fluids (like urine, feces, saliva, vomit, sweat, and semen) of a person who is sick with Ebola. Ebola is not spread through the air, water, or food.

Tell your doctor about any recent travel to West Africa or contact with a person who was sick with Ebola and your symptoms BEFORE you go to the doctor's office or emergency room. Calling before you go to the doctor's office or emergency room will help the staff care for you and protect other people.

For more information, please visit http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/.