On Oct. 15, the emergency room at Johnston Health’s Smithfield hospital treated two patients with Ebola-like symptoms. Though testing quickly showed that neither patient had the deadly virus, the hospital was ready to respond if they did.
While the risk of contracting Ebola in the United States remains low, Johnston Health wants to be prepared, Ronnie Syverson, who manages infection prevention, said in a statement.
Because of the frenzy surrounding Ebola, false alarms like the two at Johnston Health have become common. But Johnston residents have no need to panic, Syverson said.
“We can’t be fearful,” he said. “We have to stay focused. We have to stick to the facts. The risk of contracting the illness here in the U.S. is still very low. We all need to find peace in that.”
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Ebola spreads through the blood or bodily fluids of an infected person, meaning doctors and nurses are especially susceptible to it. Since the first Ebola case in the United States was diagnosed Sept. 30 in Dallas, three medical professionals have tested positive for the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC’s website says Ebola can spread quickly through hospitals if nurses and doctors aren’t wearing the proper gear. That’s why Johnston Health’s medical staff has been practicing proper methods for putting on protective equipment. The hospital has also scheduled classes for staff members to teach them up-to-date equipment procedures.
The CDC sends new information about the disease to medical providers every day. Also, hospital staff listen to daily conference calls with CDC officials.
To screen patients, Syverson has instructed staff to ask patients whether they have traveled to a country affected by Ebola in the past 30 days. Staff also ask patients if they’ve been in contact with anyone who has been diagnosed or is experiencing symptoms of Ebola. Finally, the hospital ask patients what their systems are. Common Ebola symptoms include headache, muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhea, unexplained bleeding or bruising, abdominal pain and a fever over 100.4 degrees.
“If the answer to two of the three questions is yes, then it’s reasonable to be suspicious,” said Syverson. If this happens, the patient will have to put on a mask, and a nurse will be called in immediately.
According to the CDC, the United States is one of three countries with travel-associated Ebola diagnoses and local transmission; the other two are Spain and Nigeria. In all, the three countries have reported 25 Ebola diagnoses and nine deaths. The disease is most prevalent in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, which have reported 10,114 cases and 4,912 deaths.
The CDC is working with airlines and travelers to make sure that those who travel to and from countries with Ebola cases take necessary preventative measures.
Johnston public health director Marilyn Pearson said the county wants to be sure its prepared for anything.
“I think we all are aware that we are a very mobile society; there’s always that possibility,” she said. “We are working to prepare, trying to make sure we have everything in place that we need to have in place to protect patients and protect our workers.”
In both of the false alarms at Johnston Health, the patient had either traveled or been in contact with someone who had traveled outside the country. However, neither patient had been to a country affected by Ebola, according to a news release from the hospital.
Staff followed proper protocol in both Oct. 15 cases, including decontaminating Emergency Medical Services responders and isolating the patients, the hospital said.
“This was good practice,” Syverson said. “It allowed us to identify areas that we need to improve.”