There hasn’t been even a suspected case of Ebola in North Carolina, but the preparations across the state for dealing with the deadly virus are being updated constantly, with an emphasis on protecting health care workers and first responders, state health officials said Wednesday.
“This is an evolving situation, and we are adjusting as we go along,” said Megan Davies, the state epidemiologist. “So when new guidance comes out or we learn something, as painfully as we learned it in Dallas, about what does and doesn’t work, we’re responding quickly but with thoughtful and thorough review of all the information we have available to us.”
Davies was referring to two nurses in a Texas hospital who contracted Ebola from a man who had been infected in Africa. Theirs are the only known infections to have occurred in the United States.
Davis and Aldona Wos, the secretary of health and human services, spoke at a news conference Wednesday. DHHS is in frequent contact with hospitals, local health departments, EMS agencies and, via an outreach program, with communities of West African immigrants here, keeping them up on the latest thinking about Ebola, which sometimes changes by the hour, Wos said.
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Of just more than 100 hospitals around North Carolina, 76 have now told the state that they have performed drills to test their protocols for identifying and handling potential Ebola patients. Wos said the state can’t evaluate the quality of the preparations at all the hospitals, but that health care workers had a powerful motivation to get it right: the threat to their own lives.
Getting the elaborate gear to protect health care workers from contact with bodily fluids of patients is perhaps the most critical part of treating Ebola patients, and is suspected to have played a role in the nurses’ infections. Davies said the latest formal guidelines on that came out early this week, and it’s still unclear whether all hospitals in the state have all the equipment required.
She noted that DHHS efforts include outreach to communities of African immigrants to make sure they knew whom to contact or where to go if they suspect a case.
“Ebola is a serious disease and one we all have to approach with humility,” Davies said. “And that’s why we have to do all this drilling and partnering.”
Wos and Davies also noted that North Carolina’s new public health lab has been chosen by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as of one of 18 state and municipal public health labs around the country to perform Ebola testing. As yet, it hasn’t performed a single test on a blood sample from someone suspected of having the disease.
For the public, DHHS has set up a frequently updated Web page with information on Ebola and preparations for it in North Carolina: www.ncdhhs.gov/ebola/