Concerned about the Ebola virus? Don’t be, say local health officials, who maintain Maine is not only prepared for the infectious disease, but the risk of contracting it is extremely low.
“You are more likely to win the lottery without having bought a ticket [than to catch Ebola],” said Michael Coyne, Ph.D., of St. Joseph Healthcare.
Other experts agreed, saying Ebola is getting the attention it is because it’s a new presence in the United States, following an outbreak in eastern Africa and rare cases here. But other viruses like influenza pose a greater risk.
“The difference between Ebola and other events like car accidents and H1N1 [influenza] is it’s an emerging infectious disease for this country,” said Kathy Knight, director of the Northeastern Maine Regional Healthcare Coalition Resource Center.
“The biggest concern we have is a lack of information [among the public],” said Coyne. “There are other [infectious diseases] we have to be concerned about.”
In a ballroom at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor on Wednesday, medical professionals and public officials from across Maine gathered for their monthly Northeastern Maine Regional Healthcare Coalition meeting.
The topic was Ebola virus disease planning. They discussed basic information about Ebola, the regional response plan, the behavioral health impact of the disease, how to care for patients, and how to handle and transport laboratory specimens and Ebola waste.
Coordinated by the Northeastern Maine Regional Resource Center and hosted by Bangor Public Health and Community Services, the planning event brought together Eastern Maine Medical Center, EMHS and St. Joseph Healthcare, as well as representatives from acute care hospitals, home health organizations, long-term care facilities, community health care clinics, schools and emergency medical services from Aroostook, Hancock, Penobscot,
Piscataquis, Washington, Knox, Waldo and Somerset counties.
The monthly meeting isn’t the first time officials have talked about Ebola, though. It’s been a concern among health care professionals for months.
“The city and region has been working very actively since August [to prepare for a potential Ebola case],” said Mary Prybylo, president and chief executive officer of St. Joseph Healthcare.
Prybylo said that this was a chance to go over protocol about what to do if a patient with Ebola symptoms calls or shows up. The coalition is using a multidisciplinary approach and creating contingency plans to ensure preparedness.
Officials have stepped up discussions in recent weeks in response to Ebola concerns in the United States — and Maine.
“We’ve had to escalate our timing and our preparedness,” said Knight.
Those in attendance also got to see what goes into dressing for exposure to a patient with Ebola. The papery suit, similar to other hazmat suits, covers the body from head to toe. Gloves are also worn and an air-filtration system ensures that there is no chance of airborne transmission. A checklist lays out the proper protocol for donning and doffing the suit.
Coyne said that during the early stages of Ebola, there is a lower infectivity rate. However, as the virus progresses to later stages — the ones characterized by vomiting, diarrhea and other spewing of bodily fluids, the risk of contagiousness increases substantially.
“What we’ve been preparing for is that end stage. We are already prepared for the early stages,” said Coyne.