Ebola risk low, but Summit County doctors are prepared
Influenza poses more of a threat in Summit County than Ebola virus, but that doesn’t mean local health officials are ignoring it as a potential risk.
Behind the scenes at the Summit County Health Department, weekly phone meetings with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are taking place. And at Park City Medical Center (PCMC), health employees are participating in mock drills to better prepare them in the event a patient is infected.
But if protocols and screening criteria are in place, then why isn’t the public being informed about what their county is doing to protect them from an outbreak?
"It’s best a lot of this isn’t widely public because there is a lot of misinformation about Ebola," Summit County Health Department Director Rich Bullough said. "People are afraid of it like they were when HIV first came around."
Many of the efforts at PCMC are focused on simply educating staff and physicians on Ebola as new information becomes available.
"That is exactly what an agency that deals with infectious disease should be doing," Bullough said. "They should be updating their protocols as new information comes in."
The virus itself is spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, according to the CDC website. Ebola symptoms mimic symptoms usually associated with influenza, including fever, muscle pain, fatigue and vomiting. Symptoms may appear anywhere from two to 21 days after exposure.
The baseline mortality rate for Ebola in this part of the world is in the ball park of 10 to 15 percent, Bullough said, mostly because of the availability and administration of adequate health care.
The staff at PCMC is also receiving training on screening processes for patient risk factors, such as travel history and current health status, and how to prevent transmission of the disease, according to the PCMC Director of Nursing Dan Davis.
PCMC has an Ebola response website for employees and a 24-hour infectious disease physician consultation service to help staff identify the risk level for patients that meet specific travel and health history criteria, Davis said in an email to The Park Record.
"We have some pretty comprehensive protocols and we change them based on any new information we get," Davis said. "Because we are a resort town, there is some risk. However, we believe that risk to still be ultimately very low."
In the event a patient in Summit County answers ‘yes’ to any of the questions in the screening criteria, the patient would be placed in isolation while further assessments are completed.
If the patient is identified as being at risk for Ebola, they would be transferred to either Intermountain Medical Center or Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City for further screening and care, Davis said.
Subsequently, if the patient tests positive for Ebola, Davis said it is likely arrangements would be made to transfer the patient to the closest of four, larger facilities in the country more capable of caring for biohazardous situations. The closest facility is in Missoula, Montana.
While the risk remains low, Summit County isn’t free from the threat of Ebola or completely prepared either.
"I think there is a lot in place if this does occur and I think we will handle it," Bullough said. "But I think to say we are 100 percent prepared is naïve."