MARION -- The keynote speaker at the 4th Annual "Weathering the Storm" Regional Disaster Conference attempted to clear the air and reassure healthcare providers and emergency personnel Wednesday about the Ebola virus.

The conference followed revelations of a second healthcare provider in Texas infected with the virus.

Jennifer Brobst, assistant professor and director of the Center for Health Law and Policy, said media coverage of the virus that has been mainly based in West Africa has created unnecessary anxiety in the United States. 

"I don't want the public to overreact in any way," Brobst said.

She said better education about the virus' symptoms is the best medicine to treat the nations' anxiety.

"If we acclimate people to what the actual symptoms are, people perhaps don't panic," Brobst said. 

A person infected with the Ebola virus will typically develop, in 2 to 21 days, a fever over 101 degrees, sore throat, muscle pains and head aches. Those symptoms are followed by nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

A person infected with the virus will eventually suffer decreased liver and kidney function that leads to internal bleeding.

Brobst said the virus is not nearly as prevalent worldwide as other illnesses such as malaria, measles, tuberculosis and HIV, according to the World Health Organization, but it has received much more attention.

Brad Robinson, EMS system coordinator for Memorial Hospital of Carbondale, said there is no immediate danger of the virus in Illinois, but unfamiliarity with the virus breeds anxiety

"Fear of the unknown is part of it," Robinson said. "The fact that Ebola has not been in the states before is causing a great deal of concern and the fact that it has gained a lot of media attention."

Robinson said emergency personnel respond to Ebola the same way they respond to other infectious diseases, except for the screening tool which asks whether they are running a fever and if they have traveled from western Africa.

"Those questions are asked initially when EMS makes contact with a patient from about three to six feet away," Robinson said.

Brobst suggested that more rural areas like Southern Illinois may be better suited to respond to Ebola.

"It's been interesting they haven't spoken of area-specific approaches, and rural areas have advantages such as more spread-out populations, some familiarity with quarantines with agriculture and farming and sometimes local hospitals have more capacity," Brobst said.

Brobst said protocols that are going into effect today at five airports in Chicago, New Jersey and New York can be useful to the public.

The protocol calls for patients to be tested for fever first and those that have a fever 101 degrees or higher will be tested for Ebola if they have been in contact with people from an infected area.

Those that are suspected of having the virus are quarantined, with those testing positive for the virus isolated.

Miriam Link Mullison, Jackson County Public Health Department director, said most of the time patients suspected of having infectious diseases volunteer to have limited contact.

"A quarantine by court order would be the last resort," Link Mullison said. "We would rely and probably have pretty good success with people voluntarily trying to limit exposure. People are concerned about exposure of their own family, their own neighbors and their own friends."

 

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Chris Hottensen is the entertainment and features reporter for The Southern Illinoisan.

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