Local medical officials address concerns about Ebola

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MADISON COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) - The most recent Ebola diagnosis has caused a wave of fear  -- but local health administrators say there is no immediate threat in north Alabama.

"Everything now seems to be clustered around these known cases," said Dr. Lawrence Robey, the Madison County health officer. "If we begin to see sporadic cases, which we have not, then we may begin to shift our focus a little bit."

Robey says the handling of Ebola by medical personnel has a direct tie to containing it. "We keep looking at the mess in Texas. If the news reports are true, there were a lot of mistakes made throughout the entire process."

Health department officials say the key is not to panic, but to stay aware. As well as to know that every hospital, including those here in the Tennessee Valley, are equipped to handle an outbreak.

"They're required to have blood and body fluid prevention protocols in place. They have that and the equipment," according to Robey.

Even at the beginning of any emergency, steps are taken to identify any contagious diseases.

"When people call 911, they go through a screening process, same as with the H1N1 (swine flu) outbreak," said Don Webster, the chief operating officer for Huntsville Emergency Medical Services, Incorporated (HEMSI).

"There may have been some breaches in the standard protection procedures, and if that's the case, it may explain how these infections occurred," said Robey.

Medical personnel have the tools to protect themselves and the public from any outbreaks. The key is using it properly.

"We've got to make sure they have the personal protection on, that it's sealed, and they remove it," said Webster.

Nurse's recent flight causes concerns about travel

Dr. Robey says,"What's different is that people are going to have to start paying attention to what we're doing to prevent this disease."

Healthcare providers are paying extra attention tot he recent travels of their patients -- and transportation officials are paying closer attention to their passengers.

"We're working closely with the Huntsville International Airport people and they're in the process of devising plans," said Webster.

"If someone throws up, they think Ebola first. Well it's not Ebola," said Dr. Robey. "Of course there's always concern with travel because you're in a confined space."

"That's going to be a scare tactic and airlines are working on their protocols and procedures," said Webster.

Ebola research indicates that you have to be showing symptoms to spread it.

"From what I understand, it's a droplet issue, not an airborne issue. But I know sometimes there's 3, 4, 5 seats together.

Officials at the airport say they are monitoring the situation but not making any changes until the Federal Aviation Association (FAA) tells them to do so. Officials at the Madison County Health Department say that for travelers, there's no reason to panic.

"The odds of you coming across a traveler in the millions of miles that are traveled by people everyday is going to be extremely remote," said Robey.

Medical personnel are trained to screen all patients on recent travel, while passengers are encouraged to keep open eyes -- and hand sanitizer.

"I would just be aware of my surroundings and practice personal hygiene as best I could," suggests Webster.


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