Officials with the Oklahoma State Department of Health held a news conference Friday afternoon to give a situation update on Ebola, and to discuss the protocols involved in notification of a public health threat.
Friday morning, health officials determined that a patient, who was being monitored due to possible Ebola symptoms at the Deaconess Hospital in Oklahoma City, does not have the virus and that Ebola testing was not warranted.
Many are wondering what steps Oklahoma medical facilities are taking to prepare for a patient showing possible signs of Ebola. That's why OSDH officials said they wanted to hold the news conference, to inform the public of what they need to know about the virus.
State Epidemiologist Dr. Kristy Bradley said the screening process for Ebola has been in place at Oklahoma medical facilities since August. But there is a heightened sense of awareness after a confirmed case in Dallas.
Dr. Bradley said the virus is relatively fragile outside the infected person. One could only get infected if they come in direct contact with blood and bodily fluids of the infected person. It is not a widely circulating virus, and there are no risky areas in the U.S.
Many are also questioning the difference in symptoms between Ebola and influenza. Dr. Bradley said flu-like symptoms are quite different than Ebola symptoms, as influenza is more contagious and is a respiratory disease.
Ebola is not as contagious as the flu, and it requires direct contact with blood and bodily fluids of the infected person to be at risk of exposure. Dr. Bradley said people are only contagious when they are sick with symptoms of the disease. They are not contagious before they have fever or other symptoms, which is also different from the flu.
Around the world, there are three countries in West Africa considered “hot spots.” Dr. Bradley said if a patient comes into a hospital, exhibiting possible Ebola symptoms, officials will ask the patient if they have specifically traveled to the “hot spot” countries, or have been in contact with anyone infected or has been to those countries within the past 21 days. If the patient says no to those questions, they are not at risk. And that's the critical component in deciding whether the patient needs a Ebola testing, according to Dr. Bradley.
Dr. Bradley said if a patient reports that they have been to the countries most affected by the virus, or have had direct contact with someone who was ill or has been to those countries, officials will ask more specific questions and consider testing the patient for Ebola.
Dr. Bradley said there has been a number of situations across the state where a patient has been asked such questions. She said this situation will be occurring multiple times in the near future.
However, at this time, there is no suspect case of Ebola in Oklahoma. Dr. Bradley said unless the patient exhibiting Ebola-like symptoms reports “yes” to whether they have been to the countries affected, or have been exposed to a person infected, officials would not classify the patient as a suspect case of Ebola. If the patient is meeting the criteria, officials would then order specimen to be drawn from the patient and submitted to the CDC.
If there is a suspect case of Ebola in Oklahoma, Dr. Bradley said they will be working jointly with medical facilities and health partners across the state to share information with public. They will also share the results of the testing when that's available.
Dr. Bradley stressed that Oklahoma health officials have plans in place. Health care facilities been very good with infection control and isolation procedures. And so far, no cases in Oklahoma met the criteria for Ebola testing.
If there is a confirmed case of Ebola in Oklahoma, Dr. Bradley said Oklahoma officials will implement the same procedures put in place in Dallas.