If there’s one infectious virus Midland Memorial Health officials are worried will spread in the Permian Basin, it’s not Ebola.
Concerns of the Ebola virus in Midland were raised — and quickly ruled out — after a female passenger began vomiting on the regularly scheduled American Eagle Flight 2791 that landed late Tuesday night at Midland International Air and Space Port.
She was transported to the hospital because passengers feared the woman had symptoms of Ebola, and Midland’s Emergency Management team responded accordingly.
A full medical evaluation was conducted by EMS on the scene, and after instruction by CDC officials, it was determined to be “highly unlikely” that this passenger had Ebola, according to a press release from MMH. The passenger was transported to the hospital and as a precaution admitted through a controlled access area directly into an isolation room.
MMH confirmed Wednesday morning that the woman does not have Ebola and, therefore, did not put other passengers at risk.
At a press conference later Wednesday, MMH Infection Preventionist Val Sparks said the increased awareness around Ebola has the public on high alert, especially following the recent death of the patient in Dallas who contracted the virus.
But Sparks is more concerned about flu spreading in the Permian Basin than Ebola. She stressed the importance of hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes and being inoculating for the flu.
The female patient in question was tested for the flu, which came back negative, Sparks said.
The passenger was not tested for Ebola because she did not meet the CDC’s screening criteria to do so. The final diagnosis was nausea and vomiting, the cause of which was unknown. Sparks said the patient was monitored for 12 hours and was discharged from the hospital after health care providers determined she was not at risk for spreading the illness.
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“When we were in contact with the CDC, the patient did not have a fever,” Sparks said. “This patient had not traveled to the endemic areas of West Africa. The patient did have nausea and vomiting but did not have a headache, severe headache. The symptoms were much more generalized, flu-like symptoms.”
According to the CDC, Ebola’s symptoms are a fever of 101.5 degrees or higher, severe headache, muscle pain, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain and unexplained hemorrhage. Symptoms can appear from two to 21 days after exposure, but the average is eight to 10 days, the CDC’s website states.
Ebola is not airborne and is spread through contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids, according to the CDC.
Sparks said the Midland-Odessa area doesn’t have the right conditions for Ebola to spread rapidly if it were to ever become present in the region.
“The places in Africa (where Ebola is endemic) are Third World countries,” she said. “They do not have the sanitation, the sterilization, the protective equipment, the hand-washing facilities, the sewer system … they don’t have the quality of health care and sanitation that we have in the United States.”
MMH started preparing for possible Ebola virus patients two months ago, according to an Oct. 3 press release from the hospital. A core group of MMH health care personnel and physicians instituted screening for travel history for all emergency department patients with fever of 101.5 degrees or higher, according to the release. The hospital is also equipped with personal protective equipment and supplies and has the ability to isolate any possible Ebola patients.
Sparks and city spokeswoman Sara Bustilloz said the emergency response to the situation Tuesday night went according to plan.
Bustilloz said the plane landed around 11 p.m., at which point EMS responded using an infectious disease protocol and boarded the plane to check the woman’s vital signs, temperature and from where she had traveled. It was at this point Ebola was ruled out as the likely cause of the illness.
Remaining passengers were allowed to deplane around 12:30 a.m. and were told to monitor their health in the coming weeks as a precaution, Bustilloz said. Contact information was collected from all 69 passengers, she said.
It’s unclear who onboard the flight first brought up Ebola as a concern, she said. The city could only react based on the information available at the time.
“When we hear Ebola, that tells us what kind of a response to give,” Bustilloz said. “Just the same way somebody might say they’re having a heart attack — they may not be having a heart attack, but we’ll come prepared for a heart attack.
“All we know is the information we’re given to work off of, and (Ebola-like symptoms were) what we were given,” she said.