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Jonathan Modie
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State health officials prepared for Ebola, but infection risk is low



EDITORS: A video of today’s Ebola press briefing in Portland is available at http://youtu.be/MgLwOk_Ror8


State public health officials say they are ready to respond in the unlikely event a person ill with Ebola infection arrives in Oregon, but they emphasize that risk of exposure remains low.

To help public health officials monitor for illness and keep it contained, they encourage people to talk to their doctors if they have recently travelled to West Africa.

Katrina Hedberg, M.D., is state health officer at the Oregon Health Authority Public Health Division. “We know that Ebola is a very serious illness that is an epidemic in West Africa,” Hedberg said Wednesday. “It can often be deadly, but it’s not highly communicable. It’s spread from person to person, usually from direct contact with body fluids. It’s not airborne.”

Hedberg and Genevieve Buser, M.D., a physician in the Public Health Division’s Acute and Communicable Disease Prevention Section, attended a press briefing at the Portland State Office Building to provide an update on Oregon’s response to the international Ebola situation. The briefing occurred a day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it had confirmed the first Ebola case diagnosed within the United States – a man who was visiting family in Texas.

Hedberg said she is not surprised the U.S.A. has seen its first case of Ebola.

“There’s a fair amount of travel that happens between the United States and other countries in the world,” Hedberg said. “We assume that the risk of this in Oregon is very low, but it wouldn’t be unheard of.”

That’s why the CDC and the Public Health Division have been getting the word out to hospitals and their physicians about the importance of understanding the travel history of individuals who have recently been in countries to which nonessential travel has been discouraged, including parts of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

“What’s key is not only for the physicians but for people themselves who’ve traveled (to West Africa) to make sure they give a travel history if they come down with illness,” Hedberg said.

Hedberg and Buser said Ebola is more difficult to spread than diseases that can be passed through the air, such as measles and tuberculosis. Ebola is only transmitted through direct contact with body fluids of an ill, infected person who has symptoms, by touching either the ill person or a surface recently contaminated by his or her bodily fluids.

Still, state and local health departments remain vigilant, and are working closely with the CDC to keep hospitals, and all other parts of the health system, updated on developments in West Africa, and informed on how to identify, test and respond to a human case in Oregon.

The division’s epidemiology team also has taken part in local “roundtable” discussions with medical professionals, emergency medical transport agencies and health partners to plan for the potential arrival of an Ebola patient in Oregon, should that day ever come.

“We have posted a Web page that has current information both from CDC and us regarding Ebola response and identification,” Buser said. “Each of these steps has been taken in collaboration with local health departments and our clinicians to best inform them so … we can set in place an appropriate response.”

Other resources:

Oregon Isolation and Quarantine Bench Book (PDF)

CDC Travel Advisories

CDC Outbreak of Ebola in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone

CDC Ebola homepage

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