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NGMC takes steps to guard against Ebola
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With heightened concerns about the Ebola virus spreading beyond West Africa, Northeast Georgia Medical Center is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations about controlling the disease.

“The likelihood of us seeing an Ebola patient at Northeast Georgia Medical Center is extremely low,” said Dr. Supriya Mannepalli, the hospital’s medical director of infectious disease. “Regardless, we have elevated our detailed preparation.”

When it comes to “major public health concerns, like Ebola, community hospitals should follow the lead of the experts at the (CDC),” she added.

The U.S. has stepped up response to the deadly disease’s outbreak, with President Barack Obama ordering up to 3,000 U.S. military personnel to West Africa and pushing an aggressive effort to train health care workers and deliver field hospitals.

Primarily, the virus has been confined to Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

The president has called the crisis a threat to world security, but there are worries at home, too, with the goal to speed up medical research and put hospitals on alert should an infected traveler arrive.

“I think it is something we obviously need to be aware of and take precautions being recommended by the CDC,” said Dr. David Westfall, district public health director in Gainesville.

“Our world has gotten very small, obviously, and, as they say, any infectious disease like that could be a plane ride away. We just have to be very vigilant.”

Westfall agreed with the CDC’s assertion that an Ebola case in the U.S. “would be far easier to contain, with the medical infrastructure we have in place here.”

Still, CDC recommendations include ensuring availability of personal protective equipment, making sure laboratories review procedures for proper specimen collection and reviewing environmental cleaning procedures.

“All U.S. health care facilities need to be prepared for managing patients with infectious diseases such as Ebola virus disease,” according to a checklist prepared by the CDC, which is based in Atlanta.

Mannepalli said NGMC’S infection prevention team has prepared a “care team,” including first responders; emergency, medical and frontline staff; and laboratory and environmental services personnel.

CDC “guidelines include instructions for diagnosing, treating and containing Ebola,” she said.

“The focus is to not only ensure patients receive the appropriate care but to also prevent any potential exposures and the spread of the pathogen.”

The CDC “often updates these guidelines as situations evolve and new information becomes available,” Mannepalli said. “As soon as our infection prevention team receives these updates from the CDC, we share them with our care teams.”

Meanwhile, public health’s role is to support the CDC and respond to any recommendations from state epidemiologists or CDC, Westfall said.

News about the virus’ spread “is very scary ... and it’s easy to react emotionally very quickly,” he said. “As the CDC has pointed out, there are public health processes and procedures to try to control things like this, so that’s what we would be following, if it came to that.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.