In the largest Ebola epidemic in history, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports the mortality number to be more than 3,400, the majority stemming from multiple countries in West Africa.
On Sept. 30, the CDC confirmed the first travel-associated case, Thomas Eric Duncan, to be diagnosed in the United States. Several patients have been treated for the infection around the U.S. after contracting the disease, including two who were kept at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.
Even though Omaha is only roughly 150 miles away from Vermillion, Wendell Hoffman, an infectious disease specialist with the Sanford Medical Center in Sioux Falls, said with a bio-containment unit at the level the Nebraska Medical Center has, there should not be a trace of worry in relation to the treatment of Ebola patients there.
“These patients might as well be 12,000 miles away from us in terms of the risk,” Hoffman said.
With a general public mood Hoffman described as cautious and a collaborative effort to protect people, Hoffman said the Sanford enterprise has an Ebola policy under construction which was distributed to prepare and establish consistency throughout the more than 200 locations, including the Vermillion Sanford facility which serves University of South Dakota students.
“We’ve really amped up our preparedness,” Hoffman said. “We’re connected to each other and send out consistent messages to our employees and the public. Those consistent messages are evidenced-based, fact-based and basically assurance-based that they can be confident that we have their back — health care employees have their back in doing everything we can to protect them.”
What Hoffman cited as arguably the most sophisticated health infrastructure in the world, the chance of Ebola becoming a major threat in the U.S. is very slim.
“While there is concern and we as health care providers need to take it absolutely seriously and ramp up our preparations, the long term view is the risk of an extended epidemic (in the U.S.) is highly unlikely,” Hoffman said.
Ebola, which is from the Filoviridae family, is a deadly and rare disease caused by infection of one of five Ebola virus strains. Four of the five strains may cause disease in humans, with all affective nonhuman primates.
It was first discovered in 1976 in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo near the Ebola River, with scattered outbreaks since.
The virus is spread between humans by direct contact with bodily fluids of an infected person or contact with contaminated objects, such as needles or syringes and infected animals.
After possible contact with the virus, symptoms may appear at any point between two to 21 days. The more prominent signs of infection include fever and unexplained hemorrhaging. There is not a FDA-approved vaccine available.
Confirmed cases are then quarantined in hospitals, and contract tracing searches are executed to find people who possibly had contact with the patient.
Junior Courtney Clark said she isn’t worried about an Ebola outbreak because the U.S. is doing well in containing the virus and possesses some of the best equipment available.
“There is a concern, but I feel that the U.S. has a good healthcare system, and they’re very prepared, it seems — as prepared as you can be for a case like Ebola spreading,” Clark said. “There’d have to be more cases and it spreading more in the U.S. for me to have a worry for it.”
Even if an Ebola outbreak might not be a plausible situation, Clay and Union County had a simulated emergency Tuesday to prepare for other viral epidemics.
At the Vermillion High School, community leaders, city employees and a wide variety of other professionals delivered flu shots to students in the school gym. The Point of Distribution annual drill was meant to practice for a situation in which a large number of people would need to be supplied with medication.
“A key thing is that people take it seriously,” said Jack Powell, the public information officer for the drill. “I know it’s a practice, but it could be an emergency.”
Last year’s event took place at the DakotaDome and served adults and children. Powell said Tuesday’s simulation went well with staff administering about 50 flu shots.
“By doing a practice like this every year, if an emergency came up you wouldn’t be overwhelmed,” Powell said. “It’s the kind of stuff you don’t think about everyday, but that’s why you practice it.”