A nurse from a Dallas hospital who contracted Ebola from treating the first patient diagnosed with the disease in the United States is being moved to a Maryland facility for treatment, but local health officials stress that there is no risk posed to Carroll County by the move.
"This is a nonissue for Carroll County," said Dr. Henry Taylor, deputy health officer at the Carroll County Health Department. "It's being handled by federal, state and local resources. She's coming in and going directly. It doesn't involve Carroll County."
The National Institutes of Health announced on Wednesday afternoon that the nurse — identified by NBC News and MSNBC as Nina Pham, the first of two nurses to contract Ebola from a Liberian man — will be transferred from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital to the Special Clinical Studies Unit of the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, likely arriving via the Frederick Municipal Airport. Pham is one of only three cases of Ebola to be diagnosed in the U.S.
There is no risk from Ebola in Carroll County, Taylor said, and the likelihood that there will be any cases in the county is extremely low, but health officials have nevertheless been active in monitoring the latest news and science on the disease since before the first case appeared on U.S. soil on Sept. 30.
The Carroll County Health Department is also the point agency for handling any local response to Ebola, Taylor said, and it is coordinating with law enforcement, medical personnel and other local partners to create contingency plans and disseminate information to the public: By the time Pham's move to Bethesda had been announced publicly, Taylor had already participated in multiple conference calls with state, federal and local officials.
"We are meeting and coordinating and aligning resources across multiple agencies," Taylor said. "My main task right now is to craft a clear and consistent message that we from the Health Department can push it out to the agencies and the public."
The Health Department has created a four-step process to identify, respond to and mitigate any potential cases of Ebola in the county, and has begun sharing that plan with local agencies, according to Taylor.
"First, is an accurate risk assessment," he said. "Second is to appropriately and efficiently do a clinical assessment. … Third is to collect appropriate specimens, arrange the best care and decontaminate and dispose of anything that might be infectious. The fourth [step is] where our communicable disease nurses kick in to trace contacts and feed information into the global information system."
Risk assessment is something Taylor said is an ongoing process involving the latest recommendations for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization as well as local observation. Some of that risk assessment has also involved the second step of his plan, clinical evaluations of potential Ebola cases in the county.
"We have been part of investigations of people that were suspected to have Ebola, but they did not [have Ebola]," Taylor said. "Some of the risk assessments were done by questions, but samples were also collected and shipped off and returned."
At Carroll Hospital Center, medical staff have also begun to keep a lookout for possible Ebola cases, according to Director of Associate Health and Infection Prevention Barbara Juzaitis.
"All cases that are coming to our facility are being assessed, no matter what," she said. "We're working with the [Health Department] … and assessing cases based on symptoms and travel history."
Those infected with the Ebola virus present flu-like symptoms — fever, muscle ache, vomiting and diarrhea — anywhere from two to 21 days after contact, and the virus is only transmissible after symptoms begin, according to the CDC website.
Transmission occurs through direct contact with the bodily fluids of those infected, particularly blood, vomit and feces, Taylor said, which is why the Health Department is recommending all agencies and personnel who could come into contact with a person infected with Ebola observe the universal precautions for dealing with blood-borne pathogens.
"[These precautions] were implemented in the U.S. because of the HIV/AIDS epidemic," Taylor said. "How needles are handled, how people protect themselves [from] needles and [with] gowns … hand-washing and decontamination."
The hospital is prepared to go a step further if a possible Ebola patient should arrive on its campus. According to Tom Jeffers, director of safety, security and emergency management, hospital staff members are prepared to follow the nationally recognized hazmat level C guidelines, requiring the third-most protective layering in the four-level protection scheme from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
"What that includes is Tyvek coveralls with a powered air-purifying respirator," Jeffers said. "If we have a suspect case come into our facility, our staff are prepared to go into that level C suit. We have trained with it for the hazmat application and have done annual competencies along with the hazmat, and it is same process for getting in and out of the suit."
Taylor said that he wanted to be clear that preparations for possible Ebola infections did not reflect any current threat from the virus in Carroll County or the region but are part of the precautionary monitoring that public health officials do on a day-to-day basis. He said the Health Department hopes to launch an Ebola information website as soon as possible, a location where Carroll residents can go to get the latest and most accurate information on the disease and if and how it could affect them.
"We are dealing with a situation that could change — CDC did not expect it to start happening in Texas, but it did, and that's the nature of infectious disease," he said. "I think the main message is to let people know that there is coordination and there is communication. We must be clear that we are giving people the most accurate and actionable information that we can. We continually adjust and update them as we and the global health community learns the best science."
Latest Carroll County News
Reach staff writer Jon Kelvey at 410-857-3317 or email@example.com.