Local emergency response and hospital officials on Tuesday echoed state health leaders’ assurance that the region is prepared for any disease outbreak – but stressed that a spread of Ebola virus is unlikely here.
“The risk of Ebola coming to Pennsylvania, or the United States, and casing an significant outbreak is extremely low, and I can’t emphasize that enough,” Dr. Carrie DeLone, state physician general, said in a teleconference.
Although mortality rates as high as 90 percent among Ebola patients cause legitimate concern, DeLone admitted, she and other health leaders are confident the state and nation are prepared.
“Pennsylvania and the United States have excellent surveillance and emergency systems to combat the threat of deadly diseases,” she said during the conference, which was hosted by the Pennsylvania Medical Society.
Local hospital and emergency management officials say protocols established and practiced for other infectious diseases will serve them well if Ebola or any other new threat is identified in the local population.
DeLone and other physicians on the conference call stressed that Ebola is transmitted only through direct contact with the blood or body fluids of a person actively infected and through objects, such as needles, contaminated with the fluids.
It is not transmitted through the air or water, they said.
Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center has several protocols for isolating patients with various infectious diseases, said Dr. Harold Ashcraft, interim medical director for infection control.
“We already have a lot of things in place because we see diseases that can spread that way already,” Ashcraft said.
Protocols for both contact- and airborne-spread diseases would be used to isolate an Ebola patient at Memorial, he said.
Ron Springer, Cambria County emergency management executive director, said local responders are prepared to deal with infectious disease isolation.
“We have had training,” Springer said. “We have dealt with the potential for outbreaks of contagious diseases. We would coordinate with state and federal agencies on a county level.”
Ashcraft echoed the state leaders’ belief that an outbreak here is unlikely.
“I really don’t expect it to show up in Johnstown,”?he said. “But we are one airplane flight away from Africa.”
The current outbreak in the West African nations of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria has killed more than 800 people.