Local Ebola risk remains low, but Summit health officials are preparing | SummitDaily.com

Local Ebola risk remains low, but Summit health officials are preparing

Amy Wineland
Summit County Public Health Director

With the Ebola virus garnering national and international headlines, and the busy holiday travel season right around the corner, you may be wondering what efforts are under way locally to prepare for the very unlikely, but nevertheless possible, event that an Ebola case is identified in Summit County.

What is most important to understand, despite those worrying headlines, is that the risk of an Ebola outbreak in Summit County, in Colorado or in any other U.S. location is very low. Ebola is not easily spread like the flu. It is not transmitted through air, water or food. Rather, the virus spreads through direct contact with bodily fluids such as infected blood, urine, diarrhea or vomit.

Your likelihood of contracting Ebola is considered to be low unless you have traveled to a known infected area — currently the West African countries of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia — or you have had direct contact with a person who is sick with Ebola, or both. At present, travel in other African countries is not a risk factor for contracting Ebola.

In response to the onset of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the identification of the first U.S. case in Texas, an existing group of local stakeholders — the Summit County Emergency Preparedness and Response Health Care Coalition — has been preparing for an effective response to an Ebola case if one were to occur here.

The coalition includes Summit County Public Health, Summit County Emergency Management, St. Anthony Summit Medical Center, Mind Springs Health and emergency medical services providers.

The coalition has been monitoring the Ebola situation and meeting regularly to review and update preparedness plans and protocols and to monitor isolation and quarantine processes specific to Ebola to keep our community safe. Members of the coalition participate in national and statewide conference calls with CDC and our state health department to stay up to date on the constantly evolving recommendations for controlling Ebola. We continually disseminate the most current information and guidelines through our Health Alert Network to the broader health system, including local health care providers, hospital personnel, laboratories and first responders. This work builds on the strong partnerships and infrastructure we have cultivated through many years of preparedness activities.

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In addition to the coalition's Ebola preparedness efforts, Summit County Public Health works every day to monitor, identify, investigate and respond to disease outbreaks of all kinds, because early recognition of any communicable disease is important in order to provide effective patient care and to prevent the spread of infection.

If you would like objective information on Ebola, you can use the Colorado Health Emergency Line for Public Information (CO HELP). Call (877) 462-2911, or visit http://www.cohelp.us, where you can find information and guidance from state and federal health agencies, including signs and symptoms, transmission, risk of exposure, diagnosis and information for health care workers. Information is added and updated as it becomes available.

Amy Wineland is the director of Summit County Public Health.