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Local Leaders Plan for Ebola, but Caution People Not to Panic

The U.S. is starting to screen certain passengers at five International airports, including at O’Hare in Chicago.

They want to quickly ascertain whether anyone who spent time in countries with an Ebola outbreak might pose a risk.

Health care leaders in Milwaukee and Madison have been making preparations, in the event a case surfaces here. They’re cautioning people not to panic.

Paul Biedrzycki says he’s been in nearly constant contact with the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. He also participated in Wednesday’s Homeland Security briefing about people possibly carrying the Ebola virus.

Biedrzycki is director of disease control for the Milwaukee Health Department. He’s been communicating what he learns with local health care providers.

“We’re working with them to ensure good infection control practices and related infrastructure within the hospital,” Biedrzycki says. "That’s isolation rooms, equipment, supplies that would be necessary to isolate a suspect Ebola case and then we’re working on case contact, follow up, making sure it’s rapid and thorough like we saw in Texas to ensure we can minimize the risk of exposure throughout the community."

The man in Texas who had contracted the disease while in Africa, died Wednesday. Despite that case, Biedrzycki does not believe Ebola poses an imminent threat to the U.S.

“The risk for Ebola infection in this country is extremely low. We’ve had thousands of visitors from overseas, including some of the countries impacted and there’s been only one case to date and this outbreak goes back to late winter, early spring overseas in Africa,” Biedrzycki says.

Yet some providers in Wisconsin are implementing new guidelines in response to the disease. Dr. Nazia Safdar is director of infection control at the UW Medical Center in Madison. She says the hospital has been planning for months.

“We first got worried when the first aid worker was transported back to the US. That’s when we first started talking about it. It’s hard to say which way the outbreak in Africa will go but when it showed no signs of abating, it was pretty clear it was going to spread beyond the borders of that continent,” Safdar says.

Safdar says about three weeks ago, doctors began asking ER patients if they have travelled to West Africa in the past 30 days. She says the hospital is being particularly diligent because UW-Madison draws students from around the world.

“There’s a large student population from every country you can think of and undoubtedly there are some from West Africa as well. Being the capital of the state, there’s a lot of meetings and conventions and movement in and out,” Safdar says.

Safdar says the hospital has the necessary suits and gear for staff, if the need arises.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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