Florida Health Department prepared for Ebola

Camila Fernandez/The Beacon

Camila Fernandez/ Assistant News Director

With Ebola surfacing as a global threat, there is worry that the virus could enter South Florida, a major international port. To address this issue, the University hosted a panel on Wednesday, Oct. 22 with experts on the case.

Since the start of October, nearly 50 people in West Africa die every day from the infection, according to the World Health Organization.

Despite the statistics, Aileen Marty, a professor in the College of Medicine, said that the actual number of those infected by Ebola is vague.

“These are vast underestimates of what’s actually going on,” said Marty. “That’s why you have to think about this as an out-of-control situation.”

Marty spent 31 days in West Africa as part of the WHO’s Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network. She said that not everyone infected by the virus are tended to since many keep news of their infection to themselves or their local churches.

With its first outbreaks in developing countries like Sierra Leone and Liberia, the disease quickly became a global issue with cases arising in the U.S. and Spain.

“I don’t think I need to tell you what’s been going on because… I would think that you were living under a rock,” said Marty.

According to the 2010 United States Census, Miami-Dade County is No. 7 most populous county in the country and receives millions of foreign visitors year-round.

“Right then and there it tells you that we have to be on the lookout because we are an international port,” said Lillian Rivera, administrator of the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade County.

However, there will be no direct flights from the West African countries Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea to Miami International Airport, Rivera said.

Screening of travelers will take place in Kennedy International Airport in N.Y., Washington Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Va., Chicago O’Hare International Airport in Ill., and Newark’s Liberty and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International airports in Ga..

“I can’t assure you that [Ebola in South Florida ] will not happen,” said Rivera, “but the plan is that we [would] test that case and we’re gonna know they have Ebola, and then that patient will be flown to these places out of the area.”

Rivera said that the Florida Department of Health is prepared. She said that hospitals are well-trained, especially in South Florida, where there have been numerous natural and man-made disasters.

However, despite Rivera’s confidence, Florida is home to some of the largest populations infected by diseases–like the human immunodeficiency virus–in the country, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Compared to the death toll of HIV or tuberculosis, cases of Ebola are much smaller. According to the CDC, more than 1.1 million people in the U.S. have HIV with African-Americans disproportionately affected by it.

The FDH has already set standards of guidance in case Ebola hits home. It warns that if a relative or friend is suspected of having contracted the virus, they should immediately contact their local county’s health department.

Signs include fever, vomiting or diarrhea. Contact with body fluids like vomit, stool, urine, sweat and semen are to be avoided since that is how the virus is spread. Hand-hygiene is recommended, even though Ebola can pass through rubbing alcohol, said Marty.

Marty said Ebola is not transmitted by mosquitos, but rodents can/do get infected, amplifying the problem. She said the outbreak may have derived from the consuming of fruit bats in West Africa.

“It’s Ebola today, but… there’ve been so many new diseases that have manifested and that’s gonna keep on happening,” Marty said. “It’s an interesting battle between us and them.”

About the Author

Camila Fernandez
A FIU School of Journalism and Mass Communications Student - Began working with Student Media in 2013.

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