by John Foster, MD, chief medical officer at North End Waterfront Health
With the daily news on Ebola, one might think we are having an epidemic and are at risk of infection any day in Boston. This is understandable, but not true.
There have been no cases anywhere outside Texas where Mr. Duncan was hospitalized and so far two healthcare workers who cared for him have been diagnosed. There are no contacts of the missionary health workers flown back here recently with active Ebola who have gotten sick. The Texas authorities and CDC are monitoring maybe hundreds of contacts, so we will soon know a lot more about the infection risk of this virus in the US. But for now, our risk is very low for having any contact with someone who has Ebola in the United States.
As with any potential public health issue, responsible authorities must act in advance to prepare, to develop processes to care for patients and protect the public at the same time. We should expect no less from our leaders, and so even if it engenders some unnecessary worry, it is the right thing to do. We hope we never have to use the processes, but we need to be ready.
As is the case for all health care facilities, we at NEW Health are developing a comprehensive plan that will allow us to be ready to identify any potential patient at risk and deal with that patient with proper infection control. We are drawing on information from MGH as well as the Department of Public Health and authorities in Washington such as the CDC. You may see evidence of this preparation as you come in for care at NEW Health, but it does not mean you are at risk coming here.
Some things to remember:
Ebola is not transmitted from casual contact such as sitting next to someone, walking past someone, or other airborne exposure. To those who wonder if the virus could mutate to become infectious like the flu – we have many blood-borne viruses like HIV and hepatitis that have been around for a long time and have not so mutated. The CDC feels this concern is not warranted at all.
The flu kills thousands each year in the US – and is contagious from the air. This is good to keep things in perspective, and to reinforce that the best thing you can do this fall is get a flu shot.
Over the next days, weeks and months, you will be getting more information about Ebola. NEW Health will be prepared in the unlikely event someone should present to the health center.