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DSHS: Texas Prepared to Deal with Ebola Threat

Texas Department of State Health Services

By Dr. David Lakey
State Health Commissioner

The Ebola virus doesn’t live particularly long once outside the body and can be killed with standard hospital disinfectants. But it’s scary because we’ve seen the heartbreaking images from impoverished countries in West Africa overwhelmed by Ebola. We are right to be concerned about a disease taking a humanitarian toll on places that lack the resources to prevent its spread.

Ebola is one of the many diseases that state and national public health agencies monitor constantly. In a world made smaller by frequent travel, health officials know that diseases across the globe have the potential to affect us all. The good news is that Texas was well prepared long before Ebola landed on our shore. When a Dallas patient became the first Ebola case diagnosed in the United States, a public health process with a history of success kicked into high gear.

The Texas Department of State Health Services and our counterparts across the nation have developed practices over the years that have successfully contained measles, tuberculosis, hepatitis, and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) to name just a few. Strong working relationships with our local and federal partners are crucial to staying prepared and being able to react quickly.

No response to an emergency situation is perfect, and there have been challenges. But this tried and true process is working in Dallas, too. The patient is getting excellent care in isolation, and we’re identifying everyone at risk of possible infection from exposure to this single case of Ebola to ensure no other Texans are exposed.

In African countries with Ebola outbreaks, rampant poverty and cultural practices contribute to the spread of the disease. But the primary reason we can be confident that we will stop Ebola from spreading here is the strength of our health system.

In the United States, our advantage starts with surveillance and the ability to quickly get information and alerts to doctors and hospitals. Our state public health laboratory in Austin is among 13 in the nation than can test for Ebola, along with a myriad of other diseases. This resource was crucial in the diagnosis of the Dallas case.

We can take for granted things as simple as rubber gloves – found in every medical examination room in the United States. This isn’t the case in too many poor countries.

When our patient tested positive for Ebola, we knew what to do to contain the disease. Teams of public health workers quickly identified even those who had the briefest of contact with the patient. Ebola is spread only through direct contact with blood or other bodily fluids or exposure to contaminated objects, such as needles. It cannot be spread simply by being near someone who is infected, and people become contagious only after they begin to have symptoms.

We’ve identified those who had the type of contact with our patient that could put them at risk of potential infection and will be monitoring them. That includes checking their temperature twice a day to make sure we catch any secondary cases as early as possible. Health workers will check on those individuals daily throughout the three weeks it can take for Ebola symptoms to develop. This practice of contact tracing has been developed and refined over decades of public health work involving countless diseases and public health threats.

Ebola has caught the nation’s attention in a way that very few of the health threats we work on daily do. It’s a serious disease with devastating consequences in nations that lack the facilities and resources to fight it. Rest assured that’s not the case here.

Doctors and hospitals in Texas are well trained and have responded to numerous public health threats over the years. We have a history of successfully containing the spread of disease and protecting the public. I’m confident we’ll do the same with Ebola.

    Last updated October 04, 2014

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