By Tia Lynn Lecorchick managing editor
With the Ebola Virus dominating national news and whipping segments of the American population into a panicky frenzy over possibly catching the deadly disease, local hospitals and healthcare facilities are taking proactive measures to prepare themselves for the unlikely case of an Ebola outbreak. But it seems misinformation about the Ebola Virus is spreading faster than the disease itself. “There is not any reason for the general public to panic. It’s a bad disease, but it’s every easily defended against by washing your hands and avoiding people who’ve recently visited West Africa,” said Mike Pilcher, a PR representative for Athens Regional Hospital. “The disease is only transmitted through bodily fluids. The risk of infection is very small unless having close contact with the body fluids of someone who has had an active case of Ebola. The risk to the general public is extremely low.” However, both Athens Regional Hospital and Morgan Memorial Hospital are staying up-to-date with the latest developments concerning the Ebola virus and ensuring they are prepared to treat the virus should a case of it ever arise. “We are working diligently with experts from the University of Georgia, the Department of Public Health and the CDC to ensure our preparedness,” said Dr. Jim Moore, Vice President and Chief Medical Officer for Athens Regional Health System. “Athens Regional has participated in a number of educational meetings with state and federal officials, including the Department of Public Health, the CDC (Center of Disease Control), the University of Georgia, the Georgia Hospital Association, and the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, a federal office that has provided emergency preparedness grants throughout the country, including Georgia. Our staff training and treatment plans follow the guidelines and recommendations from these expert organizations.” Although most Americans at this point are not at risk of contracting the disease, Moore urged those who have been in contact with anyone who has recently been to West Africa to be aware of their health symptoms. “Simply put, Ebola is similar to other infectious diseases in the way it is spread and also the way it can be prevented. If a person has had contact with someone who has recently visited West Africa AND is experiencing fever and headaches, weakness, muscle pain, vomiting or abnormal pain, we urge them to contact their primary care provider,” advised Moore. Morgan Memorial Hospital has been taking steps to in order to better prepare themselves in case of an emergency. The school system and the health department have also joined forces with MMH to be as prepared as possible. “From the public health perspective, our primary concern is information…our main focus is staying informed and up-to-date on CDC guidance and making sure that information is available to healthcare providers, so they can be aware of what infection control measures they can implement,” said Sarah Peck, training coordinator and risk communicator for the Northeast Health District. According to Megan Morris, director of Development and Community Relations for MMH, the hospital is staying on top of the latest information available about Ebola. “While the CDC and other agencies are continuing to learn more about the virus and therefore protocol continue to be updated, our local entities are being very proactive to ensure that we are ready to respond should the need arise,” said Morris. The alarming part of the Ebola Virus is that the earliest symptoms are exact to those of a common flu. “One of the most concerning factors about Ebola is that the symptoms are basically the same as those of the flu. Therefore, posters outlining these symptoms are posted at all entry ways to the facility and patients presenting with such symptoms will be treated with extreme precaution,” explained Morris. MMH is currently working on distributing information to the school system about Ebola. “We will be providing educational materials to the school system and meeting with the school nurses (RN’s) later this week to disseminate information and offer additional training opportunities. The Health Department has also been in contact with county officials to make sure that first responders are adequately prepared as well,” said Morris. If a case of Ebola were to arise in Morgan County, Morris assured the hospital is prepared as it can be to treat it and halt its spread. “At Morgan Memorial we have models in place and easily accessible outlining what to do should a potentially infected patient present to our facility for care. Keeping our staff and other patients protected and eliminating the spread of the virus are of course top priorities. Directives include isolating the patient and a specific room has been designated as an isolation room for this purpose. Our staff, both clinical and non (admissions, housekeeping, etc.) are being given a “refresher course” on proper use and disposal of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment),” said Morris. As of now, there have been no verified cases of Ebola in Georgia.