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Ebola: Caring for Patients and Taking Care of Yourself

Category: Patient Stories
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Dr. Linda Van Etta, St. Luke's Infectious Disease AssociatesWritten by: Dr. Linda Van Etta, FACP, ABIM, Aspirus St. Luke's Infectious Disease Associates

There has been a great deal of news coverage this past week regarding the first case of ebola diagnosed in the United States. The patient is a visitor from Liberia, a western African nation currently experiencing an ebola epidemic. He became sick while visiting family in Dallas, Texas and is currently hospitalized.

The ebola virus is contagious only when the patient has symptoms. The most common symptoms are fever, headache, nausea and diarrhea, and myalgias. The incubation period is up to 21 days. It is not an airborne virus. Rather, a person has to have direct contact with secretions such as stool, blood, urine, or vomitus from a symptomatic patient. This virus is worrisome and causes fear, however, because there is currently no vaccine, antiviral medication to treat the infection, and it kills about 60% of the patients who develop the infection.

I want to assure all of our healthcare workers, other employees and volunteers that we are prepared to care for patients with this disease should the need arise. Our top priority is to also protect all of you who could be involved in the care of such a person. We have the personal protective equipment you would need.

You can help us promptly identify any patient who might have ebola by doing the following:

  • Ask any patient, especially one with fever, about travel to Africa in the past 21 days. If the answer is positive, place the patient immediately in an exam room and close the door. Page infection control or the Infectious Disease physician on call.
  • We will be posting signs at all of the entrances to our clinics and hospital asking patients with history of travel to Africa and fever to immediately notify the registration person so they can be roomed.
  • Good hand washing kills this virus including alcohol-based sanitizer as well as soap and water.

We know the epidemic in the African nations will take many months to control. Therefore, we anticipate we will have to continue to be on the look-out for this virus for the next year if not longer. This is not the first worrisome virus we have faced and it will not be the last. We can look back with pride at how our hospital and clinics handled our 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic. I know our wonderful staff will do equally well if we are called upon to care for ebola patients.