Ebola and Tennessee

ebola virus pictureNASHVILLE (press release)—The Tennessee Department of Health continues to work with our vital partners in local, state, national and international organizations to be prepared to prevent and stop Ebola transmission at home and to support critical efforts to bring the epidemic under control in West Africa. As that epidemic in Africa continues, or if it spreads elsewhere, we will continue to face risk here at home and potentially greater risks abroad. In the best case, we expect this work will continue for months.

Should there be a confirmed case of Ebola virus disease anywhere in our state, TDH will immediately share that information through public announcements. At this time there are no confirmed cases in Tennessee and protection efforts are ongoing. This includes statewide efforts to: 1.) Identify and assist families and children who may be at increased risk for infection and 2.) Work with our healthcare community to safeguard others.

In the U.S. we are fortunate to have a robust and capable public health and health care system that can effectively detect disease, isolate infected persons, provide excellent care, trace and monitor contacts and stop communicable diseases. Contact tracing and monitoring are labor intensive, but provide important protections. While stopping Ebola transmission in its tracks is not easy, it is something we can do.

Collectively, we have learned much in this unprecedented outbreak and are putting this knowledge to use. We will undoubtedly learn more. In the first appearance of the virus in 1976 to 2012 there were about 24 separate Ebola outbreaks and, according to the World Health Organization, 1,716 cases. The current epidemic in West Africa that experts believe began with a single case in December, 2013 has already exceeded that number of cases many times.

The Ebola virus demands a great respect in health care settings we have not routinely been accustomed to giving to other germs. While TDH has legal powers to enforce a broad variety of public health actions, we are still largely dependent on a person’s motivation to come forward, be honest and cooperate, particularly before getting sick. This is crucial. We know early supportive treatment can substantially improve an Ebola patient’s survival. We also know early isolation of an Ebola patient can prevent others from being exposed to that patient’s body fluids. If all of us in Tennessee do not thoughtfully work against unnecessary fear and against all types of stigma, we risk driving away the very people we are most interested in keeping safe. TDH is working very hard to strike an appropriate balance. We are asking for your help.

Your help is vital. It is okay to be worried and to have some healthy fears based on facts. We need make sure our fears are not unfounded and do not create unintended harm for ourselves or others. That is the greater risk now. All of us can work together to stop Ebola transmission in it tracks here and around the world. It is vital that we each do our part.

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