Ebola risk low in Alaska, plan in place to stop spread

The State’s Department of Health says there is not much risk of Ebola reaching Alaska, but they do have a prevention plan in place.

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State epidemiology chief Joe McLaughlin says few people are entering the state who have been in the West African nations where the outbreak is occurring, which reduces the risk. He says certain measures are already in place to stop the spread of the disease, like a quarantine area in the Anchorage airport. He says people traveling from West Africa are screened as they leave the affected countries.

Deputy Chief Epidemiologist and infectious disease doctor Michael Cooper says health facilities, even in rural areas, already have measures in place to contain infectious diseases like Tuberculosis and measles. He says hospitals are setting up quarantine areas and the state will have rapid testing abilities for Ebola by next week.

Michael Cooper speaks at a press conference about Ebola risks. Hillman/KSKA
Michael Cooper speaks at a press conference about Ebola risks. Hillman/KSKA

Cooper says health care workers are also receiving weekly trainings on how to deal with Ebola.

“So there have been beefed up efforts on the part of CDC and others to put out clear, updated and better guidance to hospitals, to nurses, and infection control preventionists about how to put on, how to take off equipment, what other things are recommended. Making sure everyone’s on the same page with the latest information and then offering more trainings.”

Cooper says the problem with Ebola is it has many vague symptoms, like a fever, body aches, and an upset stomach. The key to stopping the spread is for people who have traveled to West Africa or who might have been exposed to conduct self-monitoring and to be honest with their doctors. Alaska law already mandates that infections of this type must be reported to the Department of Health immediately. They will then work with the CDC to contact anyone who might have been exposed to the patient.

Anne Hillman is the healthy communities editor at Alaska Public Media and a host of Hometown, Alaska. Reach her at ahillman@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Anne here.

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