The risk of an Ebola case in Alaska is low, but the state isn’t taking any chances. The governor announced Thursday the creation of an Ebola task force to make plans and to coordinate with health care providers across the state. Ketchikan Medical Center already has implemented new protocols to lower that low risk of an Ebola contamination even more.
If you go to any Ketchikan Medical Center clinic for treatment, you will be asked whether you’ve traveled recently. If the answer is yes, you’ll then be asked whether you’ve traveled to Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone, the three West African countries with the worst Ebola outbreaks.
“If the answer is yes to that, then, have you had a fever? Do you have a fever now? How are you feeling?,” said Shannon Updike, the medical center’s vice president of patient care services. “If they say yes, I haven’t been feeling well, or yes I have a fever, we then immediately isolate that person.”
That patient would be given a mask and sanitary gloves, and hospital staff immediately would notify the emergency and infection prevention departments. Updike said after that, the hospital would contact the federal Centers for Disease Control, and follow directions from that agency.
She said Ketchikan Medical Center has rooms where patients with suspected Ebola, or any other dangerous infectious disease, can be isolated.
“And we’d put a little room outside of it. It would be like a tent that we’d erect for our caregivers to don and doff the personal protective equipment,” Updike said.
The hospital has more of that personal protective equipment on order, because recommendations from the federal government have recently changed. Updike said the hospital is paying close attention to those recommendations, and will continue to follow updated protocols.
While the hospital is ready to take action, Updike and state officials agree that the risk in Alaska is low.
Cases that have shown up in the United States all originated in those three West African countries. During the governor’s news conference announcing the Ebola task force, State Epidemiologist Michael Cooper said that travel between Alaska and West Africa is low, which is why the risk is considered low.
“However, (the risk) is real,” he said. “Part of that has to do with Ebola and the 21-day incubation. So you can be exposed one day, and not develop symptoms for up to 21 days, which gives a person a lot of time to travel pretty much anywhere in the world. So that’s why we’re saying the risk is real and that’s why we’re taking preparations.”
Updike said that Ketchikan Medical Center wants to be prepared even though the risk of a local Ebola case is low. In addition, the protocols that will be in place for Ebola are appropriate for other infectious diseases, past and future.
“SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) was a risk a couple years ago, so we implemented similar protocol and it was effective,” she said. “So, using what we already know to be effective, but enhancing and tweaking per what the CDC is recommending for the particular virus that we’re concerned about at this point.”
Cooper said the symptoms for Ebola are nonspecific. Fever is the most commonly known first symptom, but the infection also can start with upset stomach, severe headache and more.
Anyone who has traveled to the affected countries in West Africa, and feels any symptoms of illness is encouraged to contact a health care provider immediately.
The state will provide updated information online about Ebola as it is available. You can check it out at the Division of Epidemiology’s website, www.epi.alaska.gov