Lubbock Ebola Scare – Why the Patient Was Not Tested
The Lubbock patient taken into isolation early Thursday morning for exhibiting flu-like symptoms was suffering from a preexisting chronic condition, said Chief Medical Officer for University Medical Center Mike Ragain.
The unidentified patient was taken to UMC Thursday morning (October 16) and by 1:30 p.m. it was announced that the patient did not have the Ebola Virus.
At a press conference Thursday afternoon, Ragain said a team of medical experts examined the patient.
The team included UMC's Emergency Medical Director Dr. Chris Piel and Director of Intensive Care Dr. Ken Nugent; Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center’s Infectious Disease Division Chief Dr. Richard Winn; and Dr. Ron Cook, the City of Lubbock’s Health Authority.
UMC contacted the Texas Department of State Health Services. After being briefed, the department chose not to pursue lab tests.
Ragain responded to a question about why the state declined to test if containment procedures were initiated as a precaution:
So, testing is an interesting question. You don’t do the test in your own facility. You have to liaison with the state health department and the CDC to get that testing. So they are being very careful how they apply these tests… I think it is wise they way the state has applied their testing plan."
The patient was discharged from UMC after approximately seven hours. The City of Lubbock Health Department will continue to monitor him, but it is unclear in what capacity.
Dr. Ragain said although the patient displayed some flu-like symptoms and had traveled to West Africa recently, multiple factors make it unlikely he has Ebola.
The patient reported traveling to Ivory Coast, which borders on Ebola-stricken Liberia and Guinea. However, the Centers for Disease Control have not reported any cases of contraction or transmission in the nation.
The patient was also discovered to be suffering from an undisclosed preexisting chronic condition and did not exhibit the frequent vomiting, diarrhea and other gastrointestinal issues normally exhibited in Ebola victims.
Ragain said the protocols were initiated as a safety measure for UMC employees and the general populace because of the potential, "As we're evaluating patients, we don't know initially what the features of the case are going to be."
Moving forward from today’s incident, UMC will train employees in the proper use of precautionary isolation equipment. Ragain said the procedure of putting on and removing the safety equipment is crucial:
We think the key theme (from today’s incident) is good precautions. Our employees, just by chance today and tomorrow, are being trained how to put on and remove the protective equipment. It is appearing more and more that that is a critical element in preventing spread of the virus. Truth be told, we’re fairly used to isolation precautions but Ebola raises the bar on the severity of that.”
Ebola Scare in Amarillo and Moving Forward
Amarillo had a similar scare occur Wednesday evening (October 15), less than a full day before Lubbock's. Baptist St. Anthony's initiated similar procedures until learning the patient could not have been exposed to Ebola.
Amid accusations that Texas Health Presbyterian did not use proper isolation procedure for up to 48 hours with Thomas Eric Duncan, seeing hospitals in West Texas treat the possibility of an Ebola with great respect should be reassuring.
Chief Medical Officer Raigan said it is paramount to not be fearful.
“The biggest message today is, people are afraid and react radically with very little information," said the UMC physician. "So, it is important to take a deep breath and move forward carefully."
Medical professionals across the nation are stressing now the importance of flu shots before winter. Less people in hospitals mean less contact and chance of exposure. Raigan also pointed out that flu will be a more common threat to citizens:
As you know, were headed into flu season and the flu and Ebola look similar early on. So, if we can reduce the number of flu cases that will be a huge win. If we roll forward into the winter and have a bunch of cases everybody is going to be worried – is it Ebola or is it the flu? – Well, I can tell you it is most likely going to be the flu. But there will be that fear.
On Friday, October 17, Texas Governor Rick Perry will update state response and prevention efforts against Ebola as well as announce initial recommendations from the newly formed Texas Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response, of which Texas Tech School of Law Dean Vickie Sutton is a member.