State epidemiologist Dr. Megan Davies (at podium) presented North Carolina's Ebola preparedness plans flanked by Gov. Pat McCrory, DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos and more than a dozen other state officials.
State epidemiologist Dr. Megan Davies (at podium) presented North Carolina's Ebola preparedness plans flanked by Gov. Pat McCrory, DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos and more than a dozen other state officials. Photo credit: Rose Hoban

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<p>Officials seek to reassure people in North Carolina that they’re prepared to respond if Ebola comes to the state.

By Rose Hoban

State health officials lined up behind Gov. Pat McCrory late Monday as they sought to reassure North Carolinians that the state is ready in case a patient with the Ebola virus arrives in one of the state’s hospitals.

Flanked by Department of Health and Human Services Sec. Aldona Wos, state epidemiologist Megan Davies and close to a dozen officials from the military, the Department of Transportation, the state’s emergency management division and divisions throughout DHHS, McCrory told reporters that he “would rather be underwhelmed than overwhelmed and not prepared” for a case of Ebola.

State epidemiologist Megan Davies (at podium) presented North Carolina’s Ebola preparedness plans flanked by Gov. Pat McCrory, DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos and more than a dozen other state officials. Photo credit: Rose Hoban

Last week, the first patient diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S., Thomas Eric Duncan, died in a Dallas hospital. Then over the weekend came the news that one of that patient’s nurses has now tested positive for the virus and is hospitalized.

McCrory repeated several times that there are no known or suspected cases of Ebola in North Carolina; nonetheless, state agencies, hospitals and clinics are preparing for the contingency.

Late last week, a patient who had recently traveled overseas arrived at the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System hospital in Boone with a fever, claiming he might have been exposed to the disease, according to a press release from the hospital. He was later cleared of having Ebola.

Zack Moore, from the DHHS’s Division of Public Health, said the state epidemiologist’s office has received multiple concerned phone calls from providers around the state.

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N.C. Ebola Information Line:

(800) 222-1222

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“Most of them were things we were pretty quickly able to determine have no risk for Ebola,” Moore said. “Either the travel exposures were not consistent with Ebola or the symptoms are not consistent, or things of that nature.”

He noted that other diseases acquired in foreign countries – such as measles, malaria or dengue fever – at first appear similar to Ebola.

“So we’re keeping the message broad about getting that travel history when someone is first evaluated,” Moore said.

DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos consults with state epidemiologist Megan Davies (back to camera) outside the press conference late Monday afternoon. Photo credit: Rose Hoban

According to state epidemiologist Megan Davies, at least 70 of the state’s hospitals have responded to a survey by her office about training in triage, treatment and the proper use of personal protective equipment. She said her office has been holding weekly conference calls with doctors, hospitals, emergency medical providers, and even funeral directors, to provide guidance and updates and answer questions.

Davies noted that one of the people in her office, Jennifer MacFarquhar, is a nurse-epidemiologist provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recently, MacFarquhar spent time training health care providers in Nigeria in how to arrest spread of the disease.

Davies said MacFarquhar will help train clinicians in hospitals and EMTs on the correct use of protective equipment.

“That will include walking through demonstrations of not only putting on protective equipment – which looks hard, but is the ‘easy part’ – but the removal of the equipment, which is the most dangerous time during the care of an Ebola patient, as you remove your goggles, mask, gloves, suit,” Davies said. “That’s often the moment when contamination can occur.”

Hugh Tilson, vice president of the North Carolina Hospital Association, said the incidents in Texas have helped to focus the attention of many of the state’s health care providers and hospital executives.

“We have an experience, and we can all learn from that experience,” Tilson said. “And the level of appreciation of the need to be vigilant has increased.”

Tilson said each hospital has a designated infection control officer, he noted that is one of the requirements for hospitals caring for Medicare patients.

Moore also said while people should pay attention to Ebola, they should be even more conscious of dangers that are more common to North Carolina, such as flu.

“Flu is already here,” Moore said. “We’ve already had our first death reported. There’s always the tendency to focus on sharks rather than car accidents.

“That’s what we see here.”

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