Johnson County Public Health ramps up Ebola protocols

BY BEN MARKS | OCTOBER 31, 2014 5:00 AM

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Although officials do not believe Ebola will pose a threat to Iowa, Johnson County officials are increasing health-related measures and activities regarding Ebola.

Tricia Kitzmann, a deputy director of Johnson County Public Health Department, made it clear to the Board of Supervisors that although the county should be aware of the epidemic, officials should not be worried about it coming to Johnson County.

She informed the supervisors that while Public Health may be increasing Ebola preparedness, agency officials in no way expect to see cases. Even if they did, she said, the risk of infection would be almost zero.

“If I become symptomatic [with Ebola] in this room with you … it’s not of concern,” she said. “It’s not airborne, you’re not exchanging bodily fluids with me. Even here in this room, you would not be classified as a close contact or as exposed.”

In fact, Kitmann said, the county should be more concerned with the upcoming flu season.

“Influenza kills approximately 1,000 Iowans a year, so I’m more worried about losing Iowans to influenza then I am to Ebola,” she said.

Kitzmann said the reason Ebola has such a mortality rate, up to 90 percent in some cases, isn’t because of the inherent deadliness of the disease, but because there’s a lack of sufficient health care in the areas which it is most present.

In the United States, though, she said, the mortality rate is better reflected at 25 percent, because hospitals have regular access to sterilized equipment, containment gear, medicine, and a proper ratio of doctors and patients.

These health-care systems Kitzmann said, especially in Johnson County, are well prepared to contain an outbreak of any infectious disease, but nevertheless have been ramping up protocols regarding Ebola lately.

To reduce the fear and misinformation surrounding Ebola, Kitzmann said Public Health has increased its communication with the public significantly, through Facebook updates, press releases, and email and fax blasts to school nurses, restaurants, and even churches.

Reducing the level of fear surrounding Ebola was a large issue for the supervisors as well as Public Health.

“I’m concerned about the fear that’s been drummed up,” said Supervisor Rod Sullivan. “I mean, obviously, it’s a very serious disease, but it doesn’t make any sense. People have to understand the reality of the low level of risk, and if you watch CNN, you don’t get that.”

Kitzmann said Public Health has also begun weekly meetings with the state Health Department as well as local partners and health-care providers, such as the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, to stay up to date on guidance and possible outbreak status.

“Last week, we updated the Board of Health on what’s going on, today it was the Board of Supervisors,” she said. “We’re just keeping our elected officials on the same page.”

Throughout the presentation, the supervisors did appear to be on the same page, with several — such as Sullivan — echoing Kitzmann’s beliefs regarding the severity of an Ebola outbreak as well as the public attitude surrounding it.

“Our ambulance drilled about it the other day, which it should,” Superviser Janelle Rettig said. “[Public Health] is drilling about it, which it should. University hospitals [is] drilling, which it should. That doesn’t mean anyone in our county believes people should be afraid, it just means that we drill about everything. We don’t expect earthquakes, but we drill about that.”

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