PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN 6) — After a patient in Dallas, Texas was diagnosed with Ebola Tuesday, the Oregon Health Authority is assuring Oregonians that an outbreak in the state is unlikely, but authorities said they are ready to respond should an infected person arrive in Oregon.
OHA Public Health Division Health Officer and State Epidemiologist Dr. Katrina Hedberg said it is not unexpected a person would be diagnosed with Ebola in the US, but the key to preventing an outbreak in Oregon is self-reporting by people potentially infected with the virus, who have traveled in regions where outbreaks of the virus have occurred.
Still, airports will play a crucial role in keeping potentially imported illnesses in check, the OHA said.
“If you are sick, please do not fly,” said Hedberg at a press conference held Wednesday in Portland.
Hedberg said the Oregonians most likely to travel to regions in Africa that have been affected by Ebola are likely involved in the response effort, in which case they would be highly knowledgable about which precautions to take, and which symptoms to be on alert for.
Health officials also said the international quarantine protocol already in place at Portland International Airport holds.
“The infection precautions necessary are routinely used every day,” said Hedberg.
She said travelers should remain on alert, and emphasized the only method of transmitting the virus is through bodily contact, or touching a surface recently contaminated by that person’s bodily fluids, and that this spread can only occur when a person is sick and showing symptoms.
Airport staff at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and Portland International Airport are trained to recognize and contain potentially imported illnesses, the OHA said.
Portland International Airport at the ready
If Ebola were ever to make its way to Portland International Airport, a plan is already in place that would be put into motion.
More than 13 million people travel through the airport each year with direct flights to many international countries.
Officials at the heavily traveled airport have kept a close eye on the outbreak.
“We do have a Communicable Disease Response Plan at the airport designed to assist any passenger that’s confirmed or suspects to have a serious illness like Ebola,” said Port of Portland Aviation Media Relations Manager Steve Johnson.
The plan begins with the airlines. Johnson said that if they come across an extremely ill person, the first person notified is the airport EMTs.
“EMTs will be responding to either an ill passenger or maybe an airline might contact us to say that a passenger is ill,” said Johnson.
The EMTS are on hand 24/7 at Portland International Airport and are trained in communicable diseases, such as Ebola, Johnson explained. If symptoms are present, the airport is required to contact the Multnomah County Health Department, who will then test and notify the public if necessary.
Oregon Hospitals prepare
Local hospitals, including Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), are also taking precautionary steps.
“Part of our plan is if any patient comes to OHSU emergency room department with any symptoms of acute illness – fever, vomiting, diarrhea – then the next question is if you’ve traveled anywhere internationally, and we keep an updated list of the countries affected by the Ebola virus,” said Dr. Judy Guzman-Cottril, who specializes in infectious diseases.
If the patient has traveled to one of the countries affected by the virus, OHSU’s response plan continues.
“It spans everything from how we triage a suspected patient in the emergency room department here, all the way to cleaning and disinfecting to testing and even to our communication plan,” said Guzman-Cottril.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Tuesday that the chance of a US outbreak is low.
According to the CDC, the only ways someone can contract the Ebola virus is through direct contact with bodily fluids of an infected person or are exposed to contaminated objects.