Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, along with several public health officials, held a media briefing Tuesday to discuss response methods that would be utilized if Ebola spread to Memphis.
During the briefing, which was held at the Vasco Smith Administration Building, Yvonne Madlock, director of the Shelby County Health Department, assured the public that the department is prepared to control and prevent the spread of Ebola.
Madlock said this would be done through identification and isolation of patients who have Ebola, tracing of individuals who have come in direct contact with a sick Ebola patient, and the use of personal protective equipment.
“We’ve been conducting tabletop exercises and drills,” Madlock said. “We’ve been training our agency and staff, and training partner [agencies]. We’ve been in direct communication with the Tennessee Department of Health, [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], and other national leaders and health departments across the nation that are experts in this kind of event. We’ve been working with our hospitals and our EMS providers, [and] communicating with physicians and hospitals and urgent care centers.”
Ebola, a severe, and often fatal, illness has claimed more than 4,000 lives since it’s outbreak in West Africa. The three countries hit the hardest in the continent are Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.
To date, there have been no confirmed cases in Memphis or Tennessee. And the only Ebola cases diagnosed in the U.S. have been in Dallas. On September 30th, Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian man visiting family in Dallas, was diagnosed with Ebola at the city's Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital.
Duncan succumbed to the virus on October 8th. Two nurses who treated him, Nina Pham and Amber Vinson, were later diagnosed with the virus.
Since Ebola’s most recent outbreak in March, nearly 9,000 people have been confirmed to have the virus. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates the amount of people infected is possibly 2.5 times higher than the number reported.
The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals like fruit bats and primates, which are hunted in Africa for food. The virus is then spread through the human population via direct contact with blood or bodily fluids, such as urine, saliva, semen, or vomit, from an infected person. Virus symptoms include fevers, headaches, muscle aches, vomiting, and diarrhea.
According to WHO, the current fatality rate for the disease is 50 percent. However, since the illness first emerged in 1976, case fatality rates have varied from 25 to 90 percent in past outbreaks.
Presently, there is no cure for Ebola. However, experimental drugs ZMapp, Favipiravir, Brincidofovir, and TKM-Ebola have been used to treat individuals who have been diagnosed with the virus.
“Ebola disease is not as easily spread as other viruses,” Madlock said. “Very few people in the United States are actually at risk. And we can contain Ebola disease, just as it’s been contained in other parts of the world, through rapid identification and isolation of cases, [and] identifying and monitoring our contacts. But it does take cooperation, coordination, training and preparedness, and that’s the kind of work that we’ve been involved in.”