“I don’t think we’ve heard the last of Ebola,” Dr. John H. Samies of the Regional Medical Center’s Infection Prevention and Control Department said during a community forum on Nov. 13 at Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College.
Samies addressed a group of about 50 students, staff and community members about the Ebola virus, which has hit countries in Western African countries hard. It is the largest-ever outbreak of the virus, killing nearly 5,150 so far, including two people who were being treated in the U.S.
Dr. Martin Salia, a physician who had been treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone where he contracted the disease, died in a Nebraska hospital on Monday.
Samies said its not the first time the world has experienced a deadly infectious virus like Ebola. From the mid-1300s to about 1400, the Bubonic Plague killed about a third of the world’s population in 50 years, he said.
Samies also talked about polio, referring to it as a “scary disease” that would “decimate entire communities.”
The Ebola virus has been around since at least 431 B.C., and bats, particularly fruit bats, are carriers of the disease, he said.
Samies said it’s likely that bats in the United States are “not strong carriers of the disease.”
He noted that a “huge percentage of those who’ve contracted Ebola are healthcare workers.”
Prior to the most recent outbreak, which started in Guinea, West Africa in late 2013, there had been two Ebola outbreaks of note, one in 1976 and the other in 1990, he said.
Samies said there are five different species of the Ebola virus: Zaire, Sudan, Ivory Coast, Bundibugyo and Reston Agent. The Zaire strain is the one healthcare workers are most concerned about, he said. The Reston Agent strain is a form of Ebola that humans cannot get, he said.
With the Zaire strain of Ebola, Samies said 60 percent of patients are critical between days six to 16 of the disease, where death is likely due to septic shock and multi-organ failure.
He also explained the differences between how the Ebola virus and influenza attack the human body.
In the case of influenza, or “the flu,” the virus impairs cells in the respiratory system, Samies said. However, when the Ebola virus makes a person sick, it’s because the virus is attacking “lots of different cell types, especially ones important to the immune system,” he said.
“This virus has a lot of little ways to get itself going,” Samies said.
Hospitals and healthcare workers throughout the United States have been taking an aggressive approach to learn more about Ebola and how to prepare their facilities to treat patients who may have Ebola or may have been exposed to Ebola patient, he said.
At the Regional Medical Center, an “incident command structure” is set up and a specialized team is in place at the hospital, Samies noted.
In addition, one of the Emergency Department’s triage units has been retrofitted so any Ebola patient or any patients suspected of having the disease may receive proper medical care, treatment and observation in an isolated space, he said.
Samies said smaller community hospitals like the RMC aren’t equipped to handle the complete care of Ebola patients, which is why each state has larger hospitals that are designated as “resource hospitals” for Ebola patients.
In South Carolina, there are four hospitals with that designation: Richland, Greenville, Spartanburg and the Medical University of South Carolina.
Samies said the risk of a person in the general population getting Ebola is quite low when compared to the chances of getting the flu.
“Between 3,000 and 49,000 people die of the flu in the United States each year,” he said.
“You need to get a flu shot if you haven’t already.”
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