First responders in South Snohomish County gear up to meet Ebola threat

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Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer for the Snohomish Health District, explains that while health officials are taking the Ebola threat "very seriously,"  precautions and preparedness make the chance of an outbreak here minimal.
Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer for the Snohomish Health District, explains that while health officials are taking the Ebola threat “very seriously,” precautions and preparedness make the chance of an outbreak here minimal.

In response to the worldwide Ebola threat, Snohomish County health and emergency response officials have put new procedures and specialized equipment in place, provided special training to response crews, and are closely coordinating with hospitals and personnel from neighboring jurisdictions, all to ensure that Ebola never gets a foothold here.

“We’ve added some specific questions to our scripts for 911 operators to ascertain if an Ebola threat might exist,” said Debbie Grady of the SNOCOM 911 center, South Snohomish County’s emergency and public safety communication center. ” If the caller reports high fever, severe abdominal pain or other characteristic symptoms, and has had direct contact with an infected individual or has traveled to an affected region within the last 21 days, will we treat it as a potential Ebola report.”

If Ebola is suspected, a trained crew is immediately dispatched. Wearing full protective clothing, crews will further assess the situation and transport the victim to a health care facility equipped to treat potential Ebola cases. Depending on the specifics of the situation, subsequent actions might include full site decontamination.

“As an extra measure against possible cross-contamination, we have equipped a dedicated ambulance that will be dispatched only to suspected Ebola cases, ” said Fire District 1 Assistant Chief Greg Macke.

While these precautions are necessary to safeguard the community, responders do not expect to actually encounter Ebola in our area

“While we are taking this very seriously, it’s important for everyone to understand that the threat of Ebola in the U.S. is very low,” said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, Health Officer for the Snohomish Heath District. “I’m willing to predict that we will not have a single confirmed Ebola case in Snohomish County.”

Goldbaum went on to explain that Ebola is a very different disease here than it is in West Africa, largely due to our efforts at early detection and treatment. The sad fact is that the one person who has died from Ebola in the US contracted the disease overseas and did not receive early treatment. By the time he was diagnosed and treatment begun, the disease had progressed too far. That “simply can’t happen here.”

Dr. Goldbaum stressed that because Ebola is not airborne, it will not spread without direct contact with infected individuals. “You can be in the same room with a person who has it, and not be exposed,” he said.

“If you’re running a high fever and have other symptoms including muscle aches, nausea and severe headaches, it’s more likely the flu,” Goldbaum said. “But, if you’re showing these symptoms AND have traveled to Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone or had direct contact with someone who has within the past 3 weeks, call your doctor or any health care facility and let them know. They will ask you some specific diagnostic questions, and depending on what they learn from this may want to check you for Ebola.

“But I want to stress again that the threat here is very low,” said Goldbaum. “With our procedures in place, trained crews and specialized equipment I am highly confident that we will see no cases here.”

Here’s a link to the YouTube video with Dr. Anthony Fauci from the National Health Institute giving a briefing on Ebola.

 — Story and photo by Larry Vogel

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