Hinesville’s Rotary Club members on Tuesday learned about the Ebola epidemic and how to avoid it.
During this week’s lunch-meeting at the La Quinta Inn and Suites in Flemington, business owners and community leaders received a crash course on the Ebola virus from Peggy McGee, whom Liberty County Hospital Authority Chairman James Rogers introduced as Liberty Regional Medical Center’s “infectious-disease guru.”
McGee — who’s been a nurse for 19 years, 17 with Liberty Regional — began by telling Rotarians the dreaded disease has become an epidemic.
“At one point in time, every time you clicked on the news or opened the paper, that’s what you saw,” she said. “There were a lot of scared people. There was a lot of panic.”
She explained a three-tiered plan for hospitals across the county that determines at what level they’re able to treat patients suspected of having the Ebola virus. She said a level-one hospital would be those like Emory Hospital in Atlanta, which has successfully treated Ebola patients. The Centers for Disease Control is working with two other Georgia hospitals, making sure they’re equipped and trained to treat Ebola patients as a level-one facility.
McGee said Memorial and Candler hospitals likely will become level-two hospitals, which enables them to treat suspected Ebola patients. A third tier of care includes smaller hospitals like Liberty Regional.
Their task is to provide support care for suspected Ebola patients, which includes what she called the “three I’s.”
“We’re going to identify, we’re going to isolate and we’re going to inform Public Health,” she said. “Right now, if I got one of your family members with a very bad burn, I would stabilize him, get him ready for transport, then transport him to the burn center. It’s the going to be the same process for us with Ebola patients.”
McGee talked about the Dallas hospital that, at first, had difficulty treating an Ebola patient. It was a learning experience for that hospital and the American public, she said. One of the things they learned was that medical personnel need to keep their necks covered. It’s not enough to wear the disposable apron, the boots, mask and face shield, McGee said.
She then turned to discussing the disease’s symptoms by first talking about a patient who came in with cold symptoms but believed she had Ebola. The patient was asked if she had recently visited West Africa or had come in contact with someone who recently visited West Africa. She had not, but still believed she had the disease. She had a cold.
McGee said the disease has an incubation period of two to 21 days and has many symptoms similar to a cold or flu.
First signs of the disease are described by what she called the “dry” phase, which includes fever, severe headache and muscle pain. During the “wet” phase, the risk of spreading the infection is greatest due to the gallons of infectious body fluids coming from the Ebola patient via vomiting, uncontrolled urinating and diarrhea.
To avoid the disease, McGee advised avoiding direct contact with the body fluids of an Ebola patient. She said those most susceptible to catching the disease are the very people treating those with the disease — medical personnel.
She explained that medical personnel who are pregnant or have a weakened immune system are not allowed “to play with” Ebola. McGee added that one reason the disease is out of control in West Africa is because those countries’ medical infrastructure is so bad. She said most of the billions of dollars the president promised to fight Ebola are rightly heading for West Africa, where it is needed most.
McGee concluded her remarks by focusing on a more common health issue — the flu. She strongly encourages people to get their annual flu shot, even suggesting those over age 65 get the “high dose” flu shot.
For more information, go to www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/.