A spokesman for the New Mexico Department of Health confirmed Sunday that the department and the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are working together to test a 30-year-old New Mexico woman for Ebola. University Hospital in Albuquerque has isolated the woman, who has no known exposure to the disease.
According to Dr. Robert Bailey, associate dean for clinical affairs at The University of New Mexico’s School of Medicine, it is unlikely the woman has Ebola, but staff wish to be cautiously prudent.
“There really isn’t a risk to the public at this point,” Bailey said. “The risk of Ebola is not having the patient in the hospital — being in a situation like the folks in Africa are experiencing right now with folks getting sick in rural villages and nobody recognizes it.”
Bailey said the hospital will send test samples to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and hopes to have the results by Wednesday or Thursday.
The woman, a Bernalillo county resident, was recently teaching in Sierra Leone and returned to the United States earlier this month. Sierra Leone, along with Liberia, Nigeria and Guinea, is one of several countries in West Africa with known cases of Ebola. According to the CDC website, Sierra Leone has had 810 suspected or confirmed cases, with 733 of those being lab confirmed, and 348 deaths as a result of Ebola.
A hemorrhagic fever virus, Ebola’s symptoms include severe headaches, fever, muscle pain, vomiting and diarrhea. Symptoms generally show up between two and 21 days after victims contract the disease.
Ebola can be transmitted by blood, bodily fluids or by coming into contact with an object contaminated with the infection.
“It’s infectious through direct contact of bodily fluids of an Ebola patient.” Bailey said. “It’s not transmitted through the air.”
The Food and Drug Administration has approved no vaccine or drug to combat Ebola, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently warned that online offers to provide such drugs are fraudulent.
Bailey said doctors can only treat the symptoms of Ebola, monitoring body fluids, reducing the fever and making sure patients do not get dehydrated.
Bailey said potentially contaminated items at the Albuquerque hospital would be removed and disposed of through a set of “well-worked-out precautions.” Hospital staff follow precautionary CDC guidelines for infection control in treating such patients: “The staff gown up with nonpenetrable gowns, gloves, eye shields, face shields, disposable foot guards and masks.”
Such precautions are not unique to dealing with Ebola, Bailey added. “The issue of a patient returning from overseas travel and then spiking a fever is a fairly common issue. Dealing with patients who may have infections spread by droplets or bodily fluids is something we do almost every day,” he said.
Two Americans — Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol — are still undergoing treatment for Ebola at Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital after returning from Liberia, where they became infected while performing missionary work.
Vigil said the Bernalillo woman had not traveled to Santa Fe since her return to New Mexico.
Contact Robert Nott at 986-3021 or firstname.lastname@example.org.