More than 300 health care, state and industry professionals brainstormed on Monday the most efficient ways to treat a hypothetical Ebola patient in south Louisiana.
The conversation, which was not open to the media, revolved around how those ranging from emergency responders to 911 operators should treat a man with fever, chills and malaise. East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden said the morning-long exercise heightened his confidence that locals can respond to the deadly disease that has recently spilled into America.
“This will hopefully help us avoid the fear and panic that can sometimes accompany incidents such as this,” Holden said.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ebola can be spread only through direct contact — such as broken skin or openings in the eyes, nose and mouth — with tainted blood or bodily fluids; contaminated objects, such as needles; or infected fruit bats or primates.
As those at the Baton Rouge River Center contemplated the disease creeping across state lines, an Ebola-negative American nurse in New Jersey was being released from a quarantine. The nurse said New Jersey officials violated her rights after she returned from West Africa when they forced her into a mandatory quarantine, even though she tested negative for Ebola and had no symptoms.
Louisiana does not have a quarantine policy per se, but healthcare workers are monitoring four people in the state who have recently traveled to places where Ebola is prevalent.
Their temperatures are being taken twice a day, and signs and symptoms are being monitored.
Gov. Bobby Jindal signed an executive order last week that calls on state agencies to develop policies to monitor their employees’ and students’ travel. The executive order also includes guidelines for the 21-day period, which is Ebola’s incubation timeline, after someone leaves an Ebola-stricken area. Those guidelines include restrictions or advisories on using commercial transportation and on going places where the public congregates, like stores and restaurants.
Both New York and New Jersey had mandatory 21-day quarantine policies for people returning from West Africa. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo softened his policy on Sunday night, under pressure from the health care community and other politicians.
One Louisiana policy change is that ambulance dispatchers now ask preliminary questions to flag whether a patient has an infectious disease. If patients list symptoms such as fever and vomiting, dispatchers follow up by asking if they have traveled recently. Dispatchers are most wary of the African countries Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, said Chris Guilbeaux, who helped lead the “Redstick Ready” event and works for the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
First responders also will react differently to someone with infectious disease symptoms, Guilbeaux said. Firefighters, for example, may not enter a patient’s residence to minimize possible contact with Ebola.
Guilbeaux warned that the spread of public information about Ebola is just as serious as the medical threat.
“That’s what going to get out of hand,” Guilbeaux said. “It’s not the patient; it’s the rumors.”