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Area Health Organizations Take Ebola Precautions

by on October 08, 2014 6:00 AM

Though there have been no reported cases of Ebola in or near State College, local health organizations are taking precautions to be sure they're prepared in the event the deadly virus turns up here. 

Marlene Stetson, the infection control and prevention coordinator at Mount Nittany Medical Center, says that although the chances of an outbreak of Ebola in the United States are low, the hospital is prepared to treat any potential patients.

“Recognizing that we live in a global community, Mount Nittany Health works closely with other community partners such as The Pennsylvania State University and Department of Health to prepare for evolving health crises such as Ebola virus,” Stetson said in an email.

The largest outbreak of Ebola is happening in several West African countries and there are fears that infected people could possibly bring the disease to the United States. So far, only one case has been diagnosed in the U.S.; a man who became sick in Dallas, Texas. Several Americans who became sick overseas have now been brought home for treatment. In West Africa, 7,470 cases have been reported and there have been 3,431 fatalities, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The Mount Nittany Medical Center says it follows all recommended guidelines from the CDC, and would immediately isolate any Ebola patients and only allow contact with proper attire, including a floor-length gown, face mask and gloves.

Kevin Kassab, the State College supervisor of inspections in the health department, briefed State College Borough Council members at their Monday night meeting -- explaining how the borough has addressed concerns about the Ebola virus.

Kassab says his department has worked closely with Penn State’s infectious hazards planning group, the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the Mount Nittany Medical Center and the State College Area School District to develop protocols in line with CDC guidelines.

Kassab assured council that the Mount Nittany Medical Center has “amazing facilities” to handle such a situation, including about 20 isolation units throughout the hospital.

Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers said in an email “at this time, no immediate threat to the region has been identified.” Students coming to Penn State from various countries impacted by the Ebola outbreak were monitored for symptoms at the beginning of the school year, but none has showed signs of the disease.

Shelley Haffner, manager of infectious disease control with University Health Services, says it has monitored students coming from Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria and other countries. 

She says Ebola symptoms – including sudden fever, head and body aches, vomiting and diarrhea – typically appear within ten days. A person who is exposed to the virus is at risk of developing symptoms for up to 21 days. After that, anyone being monitored for Ebola is past the point where symptoms might develop.

No students reported any symptoms, and all are past the 21 day incubation period. 

“Ebola is not infectious until symptoms develop,” Haffner says. “Through monitoring and self-monitoring, it would be very easy to report quickly and get someone the attention they need.”

Though no students currently have the disease, Haffner says she expects the international outbreak to continue through Penn State’s winter break. At the start of the spring semester, the university will continue to monitor students who traveled internationally for signs of the Ebola virus.

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Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for StateCollege.com who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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