Champaign-Urbana medical and safety services take caution of Ebola


A protester stands outside the White House asking President Obama to ban flights in effort to stop Ebola, the deadly epidemic that has already reached American soil, on October 17, 2014 in Washington, D.C. The debate surrounding travel bans as a way to curb the spread of Ebola has intensified after Thursday’s congressional hearing, unleashing a flurry of impassioned arguments on both sides. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT)

By Ali Braboy

In many ways, local medical officials believe Champaign County is prepared for the possibility of Ebola cases in the area.

Carle Foundation Hospital has had a number of emergency management plans in place for years, which address events such as pandemic occurrences, according to Dr. Daniel Bronson-Lowe, infection preventionist at Carle. 

The Ebola epidemic, which is a rare and deadly disease caused by infection from an Ebola virus strain, is currently the largest outbreak of the virus in history, according to the Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention. It has affected multiple countries in West Africa and killed 4,555 people as of Oct. 20, including a Liberian national, Thomas Duncan, who died in a U.S. hospital. Five people in the U.S. have been affected by the Ebola virus as of Oct. 20. 

“The current outbreak in West Africa is the result of several concurrent events, including the geographical spread of the virus among fruit bats, the practice of butchering animals which carry the virus, ritual burial practices, urban poverty, poor health care access and inadequate community sanitation,” said Dr. Robert Palinkas, director of McKinley Health Center. 

Carle initially started to plan for potential Ebola cases in conjunction with McKinley, said Bronson-Lowe. Palinkas said McKinley has been preparing for the Ebola virus since the summer.

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“We have engaged with various local health partners to arrange for safe care and transport, should the need arise. We initiated screening to detect the presence of individuals who may have Ebola infection and have established protocols for managing patients who may have Ebola infection,” Palinkas said.

Carle wants to expand the amount of screening it is doing by identifying people with Ebola symptoms who have had recent travel history to the affected regions or anyone who may have had contact with an individual that might have contracted the Ebola virus, Bronson-Lowe said. 

Bronson-Lowe said Carle is also working on developing groups who would care specifically for patients with the Ebola virus. The hospital is aiming to create a dedicated team, which would limit the amount of people exposed to the patient. They are also identifying which isolation rooms they would use if there was a potential case, he said.

The rooms Carle has set up are based on the CDC standards, and Carle is prepared to use any number of the rooms if necessary, Bronson-Lowe said.

Palinkas said in the case of a major outbreak on campus, an Infectious Disease Work Group at the University would recommend Ebola initiatives to the Chancellor.

“It’s been almost 40 years we’ve known about (Ebola).” Bronson-Lowe said. “There have been roughly 30 outbreaks in that time that have involved humans; most of them have been relatively small.” 

The difference this time, he said, is that the disease got into a major urban center and was not immediately contained, which made it extremely difficult to stop the virus from spreading. 

“Media attention is playing a role in the high U.S. concern; thousands of people in the U.S. die every year from the flu in the U.S., yet little is said about these deaths,” Palinkas said.

In 2010, Influenza and pneumonia were the ninth leading causes of death in the U.S. with a total of 50,097 deaths, according to the CDC. About three to five million cases and about 250,000 to 500,000 deaths of Influenza occur worldwide each year, according to the World Health Organization. 

Ebola has been widespread in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, according to the CDC. The University currently has one student from Sierra Leone and no students from either Liberia or Guinea, according to the Division of Management Information.

However, the community is still taking steps to prepare in the case of a possible outbreak. The Champaign Fire Department began training the force to cover Ebola virus responses Tuesday, and will continue throughout the week, according to a press release.  

The Champaign Fire Department is collaborating with the Champaign Urbana Public Health District, Urbana Fire Department, Pro Ambulance and Arrow Ambulance to prepare for a possible Ebola case in the area. 

“If something does occur, and a case does arrive in our community, I think that the processes that we have in place are going to go a long way toward protecting those individuals — protecting everyone, really,” Bronson-Lowe said.

Melaney Arnold, communications manager for the Illinois Department of Public Health, said the department is working to keep the community informed. The Illinois Poison center activated an Ebola hotline Thursday. 

“We encourage people to educate themselves about Ebola and to call the hotline with any questions,” Arnold said. “Concerns without accurate information and answers can lead to overreaction and unnecessary fear.“

Ali can be reached at [email protected].

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article stated that Thomas Duncan was an American. Duncan was a Liberian national. The Daily Illini regrets this error