A Thurston County resident who returned from spending three weeks in Liberia and didn’t come in contact with anyone with Ebola, has agreed to self-monitor for fever and other symptoms of the disease and work closely with health officials, according to a Thurston County news release.
The man, who is a physician, has agreed to limit social activity, as well. He has a child attending Capital High School and one attending Marshall Middle School. Friday afternoon, the Olympia School District contacted families in those schools to let them know about precautions that were being taken by a parent in the district.
“He’s a physician in infectious disease control, so he understands what the risks are,” Don Sloma, director of Thurston County Public Health and Social Services, told The Olympian. “He’s not interested in creating any unnecessary fear.”
The resident, whose identity was not released, volunteered in Liberia and trained health professionals in infection control procedures at clinics that were not treating Ebola patients.
“Because the individual had limited physical contact with anyone while in Liberia and was not exposed to Ebola patients, there is ‘no known risk’ of Ebola,” the news release stated. “However, the person has voluntarily agreed to take time off from work, and monitor and report their temperature twice a day for 21 days — the maximum incubation period for the Ebola virus.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently enacted protocols for travelers returning from Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone that call for notifying health officials in the state where the traveler lives. When the Thurston County resident arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, CDC screening determined that the traveler presented “no known risk” of harboring the disease, the news release stated. CDC notified the Washington State Department of Health, which in turn contacted Thurston County Public Health officials.
Thurston County officials sent out a news release about the physician. Olympia School District spokeswoman Rebecca Japhet said they were contacted about the physician by county health officals and felt it was important to share the information with families in the district.
“We are just alerting parents out of an abundance of caution,” she said.
In an interview with The Olympian on Oct. 15, Thurston County Health Officer Dr. Rachel Wood said her message to South Sound residents is that there’s a plan in place to deal with an Ebola case and to keep it from spreading.
“I am much more concerned about them getting the flu than Ebola,” Wood said. “Get a flu shot.”
She said people shouldn’t be afraid of Ebola. It isn’t spread by air, water, casual contact or food that has been grown or legally purchased in the United States, Wood said.
“The virus is spread by people who come in contact with blood or bodily fluids of a person who is already sick,” she said.
Many of the precautions that health care workers take with Ebola are the same as the ones they already take when working with other infectious diseases, Wood said. Officials from Providence St. Peter Hospital and Capital Medical Center said plans are in place for screening, identifying, isolating and treating Ebola patients.
Thurston County Public Health officials are conducting routine monitoring and follow-up of the physician who returned from Liberia; those steps are being taken for all travelers returning from Ebola-stricken countries, county officials said.
“We are prepared to deal with this,” Sloma, the county health director, said. “This is likely to be sort of situation normal for a bit, and people need not have any unnecessary concern.”
Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433