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Is Portland prepared for an Ebola outbreak?

Thursday, October 02, 2014



Are Portland medical professionals and first responders ready for a possible outbreak of the Ebola virus?

Local, regional and state health officials held a press conference in Portland Tuesday to brief the public on the region’s preparations for a possible Ebola outbreak. The speakers said Oregon is ready to respond to Ebola infection, adding that they believe the risk of exposure is low. 

Slides Below: How will Portland Handle an Ebola Incident?

"We know that Ebola is a very serious illness that is an epidemic in West Africa," Katrina Hedberg, M.D., state health officer at the Oregon Health Authority Public Health Division, said at the press conference. "It can often be deadly, but it's not highly communicable.”

The first case of Ebola on America soil was reported in Dallas, Texas on Monday, which began raising questions about the readiness of local health departments and agencies.

Ebola cases started appearing in West Africa's urban and rural communities in March 2014. Since then, outbreaks have been reported in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, and Senegal, with more than 6,500 patients and 3,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. 

Ebola is passed through direct contact with bodily fluids or contaminated medical equipment. The symptoms begin much like the flu, with fever fatigue, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. However, it grows to include impaired kidney and liver function, and sometimes internal and external bleeding.

The case fatality rate is as high as 90 percent and there is no proven treatment. 

GoLocalPDX asked health professionals and emergency responders about what specific plans were in place to handle an outbreak. Officials from the Port of Portland and Oregon Health Science University said they were prepared and trained constantly for scenarios that involve deadly communicable diseases like Ebola (see below for their specific plans of action).

Hedberg said although Ebola is more difficult to spread than airborne illnesses, state and local health departments are remaining attentive on keeping hospitals updated with any new developments in West Africa and elsewhere.


Related Slideshow: Slides: How Portland Plans to Handle Ebola

Are Portland medical professionals and first responders ready for a possible outbreak of the Ebola virus?

With the first case of Ebola on America soil reported in Dallas Texas on Monday, questions are raised about the readiness of local health departments and agencies. Health officials in Portland travel and health organizations discuss their specific reaction plans, training practices, and the overall gravity of an Ebola outbreak

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Multnomah Co. Health Dept

The county health department is the region’s largest health agency. It assesses and tracks the threat of communicable diseases in and around the region.

Ebola Plan: Multnomah County Health Department has been tracking Ebola over the last few weeks, and making sure they stay up to date with CDC recommendations and guidelines for the disease. The department also has been reaching out to people who have friends or relatives in North Africa or who would have plans to travel there, and make sure they are properly educated before going and properly cared for on their return. 

Training: They have participated with local hospitals and EMS units, helping them plan and prepare with discussions and exercises over the last few weeks. A regional exercise was also conducted by the department. 

“As we move forward in time, I hope people are ready to talk about the human side, and be sympathetic of the people who lost relatives and friends,” said Amy Sullivan, communicable disease services manager at Multnomah County Health Department. “We need to come together and be supportive.”

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Portland Intl Airport

If there was an Ebola outbreak in Portland, Portland International Airport would be the likely be the point of entry for anyone carrying the disease.

Ebola Plan: The Port already has a communicable disease response plan already in place. The Portland Airport Fire and Rescue team and EMTs would be the first responders if any infectious disease were detected. If a confirmed case, Multnomah County Public Health would be called in to evaluate the situation and make decisions. 
The patient would be placed in an encapsulated containment suit that lets air in, while keeping air and bodily fluids from the patient from getting out. Anyone else in contact with the patient would be handed out cards to fill out, so they could be tracked over the following weeks. 

Training: Every month, a week is dedicated to EMS training for the entire fire and rescue department. Others with specific certification receive extra training. There is an upcoming training for the department specifically for the containment of passengers or employees.

“The goal is to contain,” said Lt. Paramedic Michael Dayton. “They haven’t had to make a lot of tweaks to their containment plan for Ebola specifically because they are always prepared.” 

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OHSU Hospital

Oregon Health & Science University is the state’s most advanced medical facilities. It is one of two Life Flight emergency rooms in the region that take patients that are flown from up to 150 miles away.

Plan for Ebola: Any patient suspected of having an infectious disease is isolated and contained, attended to by medical professionals covered in gowns, masks and gloves.

Patients are asked screening questions, in the ambulance or emergency room, to determine if any recent travel has put them risk of being infected with Ebola. If anyone showed symptoms resembling Ebola and had the right travel history, they would be placed in isolation immediately.

Training: Over the last few weeks, the hospital has gone through dry runs and table top exercise exploring the possible scenarios in the event of an Ebola case.  Through those exercises a set of protocols has been established. OHSU staff also keep in contact with local and state health agencies to stay up to date on guidelines and national Ebola preparations.

“Ebola is not spread through the air or casual contact with objects, but only through direct contact with bodily fluids,” said John Townes, media director of infectious diseases and control at OHSU. “This is important for people to remember. Limited introductions are unlikely to result in any substantiated outbreaks in the U.S.”

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Legacy Health

Legacy Health Systems has 5 of hospitals in the metro area. Legacy Emanuel is one of the busiest emergency room in the city and is serviced by Life Flight.

Plan for Ebola: As soon as an Ebola case is identified staff would notify county health authorizes. The patient would be placed in a special containment unit for those with communicable diseases, and the staff would start working backward to find who the patient had previously been in contact with.

Any outbreak of Ebola becomes a case for public health and CDC. Also, the question “Have you traveled to Africa in the last 21 days” is part of the normal patient intake for the hospital.

Training: Training for containment of infectious diseases is constant in the hospital, as well as dealing with the equipment for containment practices.

"We are training all the time, all year long,” said Brian Willoughby, spokesperson for Legacy Health. “Part of health care is constantly updating; it’s a continual process.”

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Oregon Health Authority

Oregon Health Authority is the state agency that coordinates health policy, regulations and state run health facilities. The agency is in charge of long term planning for epidemic emergencies.

Plan for Ebola: A communication plan is in place that sets up the chain of command. Local health departments and airports would be contacted, as to how to prepare and to find the story of the Ebola case. The CDC would also be contacted and their guidelines implemented.

Training: In the last few months, conversations were started about Ebola and the possibility of travelers bringing it into Oregon. Oregon Health Authority worked with local health departments, educating them on Ebola, containment, and the importance of learning travel history. Also they walked and talked through the steps of and different scenarios and how medical professionals would handle cases.

“We make people be on the ball,” said Dr. Genevieve Buser, public health physician, acute and communicable disease prevention section Oregon Health Authority's Public Health Division. “For Oregonians, the risk of Ebola is low, but there will be Oregonians whose travel could put them in danger of contacting Ebola. We ask they follow the guidelines to prevent contracting the disease, and upon their return they speak to their physicians, making the appropriate connections and precautions.”


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