Rita Allen is a registered nurse who’s certified in infection control at St. Joseph’s/Candler Hospital.
She says the hospitals have to be prepared to prevent infections.
“We’re watching what’s going on around the world. We know diseases like this can travel — it’s an open world,” Allen said. “We hope we never get an Ebola patient here, but if we do, we’ll be prepared to treat them.”
Ebola has stricken more than 8,000 people in West Africa, primarily in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea since March, according to the World Health Organization.
More than 3,800 people have died.
One key to preventing the spread of Ebola is early dection, said Dr. Jay Goldstein, medical director of the Emergency Department at Savannah’s Memorial University Medical Center.
Ebola, which is not airborne and is only spread through direct contact with bodily fluids, has a 21-day incubation period during which patients show no signs of infection and are not contagious, according to the CDC.
One challenge, Goldstein said, is that early signs of Ebola are similar to the common flu.
“There is no red flag except for travel or contact history,” he said. “For the most part patients initially present with almost exactly the same symptoms as flu patients. That’s the scary reality of this illness.”
Goldstein and Allen agreed that if a patient who recently has been in West Africa shows any symptoms, the patient would be placed in isolation.
The next step, hospital officials said, would be to alert public health officials, starting with the Coastal Health District who would be responsible for tracking and responding to a disease outbreak such as Ebola.
Coastal Health spokeswoman Sally Silbermann said her agency would advise health workers of recommendations made by the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, identify and contact anyone who may have had contact with the patient and distribute information to the public.
“The ultimate goal of public health, along with our community partners, is to work together to do whatever is necessary to ensure the public’s health and safety,” she said.
Because there are so many different ways to access the Savannah area, it’s important area health officials be prepared to treat infectious diseases such as Ebola, Allen said.
“It is concerning because we’re in a port city, there’s (Interstate) 95, we have an airport, there is military here. These are all things that you take into consideration with any type of infection control plan,” she said.
Allen said St. Joseph’s/Candler would likely keep an Ebola patient there for treatment, while Goldstein said Memorial might consider transporting the patient to another hospital, perhaps Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital, where stricken aid workers recovered from the infection earlier this year.
In either case, both health systems have the necessary protective equipment for staff members and would place patients in low-trafficked isolation areas.