Following the first Ebola-related death on American soil, Cartersville Medical Center is moving to explain how the hospital is prepared in case of a local infection and raise awareness of enterovirus, a respiratory illness.
Chief Medical Officer Titilola Britto spoke Wednesday afternoon about the Ebola virus, which killed Thomas Eric Duncan in Texas the same day. She said the risk of an infection in Bartow County is “very small,” as screening procedures at airports are ongoing and becoming tighter. On Wednesday the Centers for Disease Control announced that temperatures will now be taken for travelers coming from West Africa, including those arriving at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
“I think it’s a reasonable precaution to take. We’ve been doing that — they’ve been screening people leaving West Africa for the last two or three months, and they’ve actually pulled hundreds of people off the line at the airports over there. So they’ve been quite effective. I’m not sure they’ve started doing that in Europe, but I suspect they very likely will,” Britto said. CMC has the facilities to isolate and quarantine an Ebola patient, Britto said as she recorded a statement for the hospital.
“Here at Cartersville Medical Center our emergency preparedness team has gone through the entire facility, educating people ... making sure that we have systems in place to screen everyone for recent travel within the last 21 days, as recommended by the CDC,” she said. “We have always had facilities to isolate people for chemical spills and other industrial accidents, and all of these systems have been modified to make sure that in the event of having a patient that we need to isolate and test for an infectious disease, that we have adequate facilities to take care of the patient while protecting the staff and community. These areas are isolated from normal patient treatment areas and areas where other visitors would have access. We are very confident that we can keep the community very safe.”
If an Ebola infection were to occur in Bartow County or elsewhere in the nation, Britto believed vigilance and information would limit the disease’s spread.
“But I think as public awareness grows and people also understand early treatment is the key. I think this gentleman that died today, he was sick, went back home for three days, got really sick and then came to the hospital at a late stage of the disease. ... It was probably too horrifying for him to contemplate,” she said.
According to the CDC, Ebola spreads via blood and body fluids, including vomit, breast milk, sweat, urine, saliva, feces and semen. Contaminated objects, such as syringes and needles, can transmit the virus. Animals can transmit Ebola as well.
If the patient recovers from the virus, they can no longer spread the virus. However, the CDC states the virus can remain in semen for up to three months.
Symptoms of Ebola include a fever greater than 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit, severe headache, muscle pain, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain and unexplained bleeding or bruising. The symptoms can appear between two to 21 days after exposure, with an average of eight to 10 days.
Though Ebola does not have a cure, Britto said it is survivable.
“One thing we’ve not paid attention to in the news is some of the stuff that’s going on in Europe. They’ve successfully repatriated several people to Germany, Norway, England and have been successfully treating everyone and not infecting their workers. In Spain they seem to have less luck at being effective at protecting their workers, but there’s several countries in Europe that have quietly been treating people successfully and sending them home,” she said.
Though she did not have exact numbers, Britto said the infection rate in Liberia is less than 1 percent of the population.
“In terms of when you look at the population of those countries and the number of people that are infected, the number is small,” she said. “It’s just when you look at Sierra Leone and Liberia, these are two countries that are side-by-side that had a 20-year civil war. By the end of that war there were like 60 doctors in one country for 4 million people. I mean, they just had nothing, and now half of [the doctors] are dead from this disease. So they just need help.”
Turning to enterovirus, Britto said there are more than 70 types of the virus. Polio is an enterovirus, she continued, and those that are common are called non-polio enteroviruses, which can have a variety of symptoms. The one of concern this year is called Enterovirus D68.
“They’re usually mild diseases. There are probably 10 to 15 million people that get infected every year of all ages. But infants, children, teenagers and people with weakened immune systems tend to be the most susceptible. They usually will have [a] runny nose, respiratory-type infection, sometimes they’ve have diarrhea-type infection,” she said.
According to the CDC, the virus, also called EV-D68, can cause “mild to severe respiratory illness,” and have symptoms including fever, sneezing, cough and aches. Severe symptoms can include wheezing and difficulty in breathing. From the middle of August to Oct. 8, the CDC has confirmed 664 cases in 45 states and Washington, D.C.
The CDC states some state health departments are investigating severe illnesses in children thought to be related to EV-D68.
Preventing infection, Britto said, comes down to washing hands before eating and disinfecting surfaces. An infection’s severity can come down to a person’s immune system, she continued.
“You’ll get 10 million people get it, one kid dies, 10 kids get paralyzed and everybody else seems to recover and walk around. Half of them don’t know they were sick. Another few just had a cold and some were in the hospital with inflammation of their heart muscle. I think sometimes it depends on the way different people’s immune systems tend to react,” Britto said.
There is no specific treatment for an enterovirus infection, and the CDC recommends those concerned about their symptoms to contact their health care provider.