Preparing for the possibility of Ebola
Local health care experts say the virus is unlikely to reach Marshfield but have extensive precautions in place
By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD— The Marshfield Clinic and Ministry St. Joseph’s Hospital have safety measures and precautions in place should the Ebola virus hit close to home. Though the threat is not imminent, local healthcare experts are working on a daily basis to make sure they are prepared.
Denny Thomas, the director of risk management and disaster preparedness at St. Joseph’s Hospital, believes the likelihood that Ebola would reach Marshfield is remote. Still, Thomas is working to educate staff about how to deal with a patient that contracts the virus.
Thomas said that preparing for the Ebola virus is a statewide effort. St. Joseph’s works with the Wisconsin Emergency Preparedness Program and the State Department of Health to develop strategies to detect Ebola, treat it, and protect others from the spread of the virus.
“In the event that we would have a case, you want to ensure that the patient is placed in an appropriate environment to meet their needs (and) that our staff are given the appropriate level of protection so they can safely care for such a patient,” Thomas said.
Should a local patient be suspected of having Ebola, the individual would immediately undergo laboratory tests, and the test samples would be sent to the State Department of Health and then to the Center for Disease Control. The patient would be placed in an isolation unit to keep the virus contained.
“There is no chance any type of infection would occur outside that room. Anybody that enters that room has to wear an appropriate level of personal protection,” Thomas said.
He added that hospitals throughout the state are sharing information and collaborating on best practices for dealing with Ebola.
Dee Hawks, Marshfield Clinic’s system infection prevention and control manager, said the Clinic has put screening measures in place to identify possible cases of Ebola. Clinic patients will be asked if they have a fever and if they have traveled to West Africa. If both questions are answered affirmatively, the patient will be isolated immediately.
Ebola is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids of an individual that has the virus. Symptoms can appear anywhere from two to 21 days after exposure.
“I think the key No. 1 to stopping Ebola is isolating patients within that two to 21 days,” Hawks said.
Hawks added she would not rule out Ebola making its way to Marshfield considering that Wisconsin does have members of the Peace Corps in Africa that could travel home carrying the virus.
“I would say that anything is possible. I wouldn’t rule it out,” Hawks said.
Dr. Brian Chow, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Marshfield Clinic, noted that people from Wisconsin do travel to Western Africa on mission trips and to visit relatives.
“It is always possible (that Ebola could appear in Marshfield). We are right smack in between two major international airports, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Chicago O’Hare. It’s possible that someone in Wisconsin has traveled (to Western Africa) and did not realize that they were exposed to someone that had fallen ill,” Chow said.
Despite the risk factors, Chow believes the chances that Ebola makes it to Marshfield are small.
“I think overall the likelihood is low. I think that with the screening procedures that the government has in place at the major points of entry, that we will be picking up on any cases very, very quickly,” Chow said. “We have to be very, very careful and vigilant.”
Wisconsin had its first Ebola-related scare when a Liberian detainee was taken into custody in Chicago and transported to the Kenosha County Jail. The woman was monitored for Ebola but was transported back to Chicago and handed over to Immigration Customs Enforcement after showing no signs of having the virus.