The Ebola Virus and Local Health Departments
By Cecelia Jacobson
The Ebola virus is here and local health departments will play a key role in isolating its impact.
Western Africa is currently in the midst of the largest Ebola virus outbreak in history, and the U.S. received its first confirmed diagnosis of Ebola on our soil. More than 3,000 people have died already and CDC models estimate that as many as 1.4 million people could be infected by the end of January. Local health departments, despite ongoing funding cuts, need to be ready to play a key role in effectively stopping the spread of Ebola throughout the U.S.
Local Health Departments & Ebola: Emergency Preparedness
Here are the most important ways local health departments can help prepare for the Ebola virus:
- Overall Healthcare System Preparedness
Local health departments play an important role in developing the emergency response plans for their entire communities. Who will treat the infected? How will potentially infected individuals work their way through the healthcare system without endangering anybody else? All important things for local health departments to be a part of. Coordinate with state and local officials, as well as healthcare providers in your area to create action plans for your Ebola response. Lead the way and assess how prepared hospitals are and that everybody along the emergency response chain has the resources and supplies they need to stop the outbreak.
- Educating & Training Responders
With a disease that is taking an unprecedented toll on the lives of healthcare workers, educating first responders and healthcare professionals is vital to help limit its spread. Medical staff in West Africa is disproportionately being affected by the outbreak as the highly contagious disease is being transmitted to them during patient care. Proper education and preparation of responders (on top of having the resources they need available) will help keep the virus in check, and stop it from spreading. The people we rely on to save the infected need to be safe, or else the entire health system could fall into ruin.
- Educating Doctors
Local health departments may also find themselves responsible for educating healthcare providers in their communities on Ebola. From warning signs to isolation procedures, don’t assume your nurses or hospitals in your area know what to look out for. Get plans and procedures in place to ensure the response to Ebola is as effective as possible.
- Educating the Public
A key component that has led to the unprecedented spread of the current Ebola outbreak is a general lack of education about Ebola amongst the communities affected. Local health departments can prevent that from happening in the U.S. by getting in front of their communities to spread awareness for the disease and how it’s spread. From educating travelers to general warning signs to look for when somebody may have Ebola, teaching your communities how to avoid the disease is imperative to stopping its spread.
- Stay Alert
When it comes to Ebola, the faster the response, the better. It’s important for members of your staff to be prepared and stay connected with information sources about Ebola and the CDC’s Health Alert Network. The CDC also has a comprehensive collection of Ebola materials available for public health officials. Staying abreast of all the latest developments will better help your department to coordinate its response and keep the members of your community informed and safe.
Local Health Departments & Ebola: Emergency Response
Here are the most important ways local health departments can help respond to the Ebola virus:
- Patient Coordination & Investigation
Local health departments do not have the resources or equipment to handle mass isolation patient care, but it doesn’t mean they sit idly by as hospitals treat the infected. Local health departments can act as the investigative branch of the healthcare system to make sure the virus stays isolated to the one individual. They’ll be able to get lists of people the infected potentially came in contact with, and track them down to administer tests. We can use the newly confirmed Ebola case in Dallas as an example. State and local health departments helped to build a plan to get the potentially infected patient to the right facility as quickly as possible, with strong quarantine measures in place. The local health department will investigate the potentially infected patient to ensure anybody they’ve come in close contact with is virus-free.
Education of travelers and the public doesn’t stop once an outbreak occurs. It’s even more important to be the face of information in your community to build trust and make sure everybody is effectively working towards the same end goal of getting rid of the virus.
Ebola is here. Are you ready? Be sure to check out our Ebola Resource Center for Emergency Managers, where local health departments and emergency management professionals can stay up to date on the latest Ebola news and response plans.
About the Author
Cecelia has her degree in Communication Studies and Environmental Science from DePaul University and is working as a Senior Healthcare Industry Analyst for Upp Technology’s Public Health Division. Working closely with a number of health departments to improve clinic work flow, revenue enhancement and technology advancement, Cecelia’s objective is to help local health departments better serve their community and patients. She has volunteered in a number of different settings, including a long term public health initiative with a community in Mexico. You can contact Cecelia at firstname.lastname@example.org.