Hospitals and clinics will likely see an increase of nervous patients complaining of fevers, muscle aches and headaches, Tarrant County public health officials predicted.
“There is going to be a heightened sense of panic in the United States in the coming weeks. The initial signs and symptoms of the flu and the signs and symptoms of Ebola are damn similar,” said Kelly Hanes, spokesman for the Tarrant County Public Health Department. “People are going to panic. People are going to worry.”
Nina Pham, a Texas Christian University graduate who attended Nolan Catholic High School, contracted Ebola after caring for Thomas Eric Duncan, who died Wednesday of the virus. She tested positive for Ebola on Sunday and is in stable condition at Texas Health Presbyterian.
Pham, who wore required protective gear and is believed to have followed the Dallas hospital’s protocols, is the first person known to have contracted the disease while in the United States.
But for the general public, catching the seasonal flu is a more realistic threat, said Steve Love, the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council’s president and chief executive,.
“The one thing I want to remind people of is that 36,000 to 38,000 Americans are going to die in the next 12 months from another infectious disease. It’s called the flu. Less than 50 percent of Texans traditionally get a flu shot,” Love said.
He also urged parents to vaccinate children against mumps, measles and whooping cough, all of which are seeing a resurgence.
Learning from nurse’s case
Pham’s case likely will help health professionals learn better ways to protect themselves when caring for patients with Ebola-like symptoms, say medical groups. Public health authorities on Monday had not determined how she contracted the virus.
“We don’t know still what happened. The lessons learned there are the ones that will be shared with nurses and health care facilities across the country,” said Adam Wasch, spokesman for the Texas Nursing Association.
Registered nurses all undergo training on infectious disease response, from proper hand washing to the correct order to put on and take off protective clothing, Wasch said. That training comes into play whether a nurse is working in a hospital emergency room or at an urgent care or drugstore clinic.
Love said all of the council’s 85 hospitals in the Dallas-Fort Worth region are following updated CDC protocols and guidelines on Ebola patient response, have participated in training within the past 30 days and are remaining in close contact with county, state and federal health officials.
“All the hospitals are ready to treat, if needed, patients that do come presenting symptoms,” Love said. “We deal with infectious diseases every day. I’m not going to say we deal with Ebola every day but we deal with HIV, we deal with hepatitis. We deal with a lot of diseases that are very infectious and we do everything we can to protect the public.”
But obtaining the right kind of information from patients is just as critical as knowing what to do with it, Wasch said.
“Two particularly important questions right now are ‘Do you have a fever and have you traveled outside the United States recently?’ ” he said. “We hope the public is forthcoming with that information.”
Pham’s case also provides a real-life example for nursing students at the University of Texas at Arlington.
“What it does is emphasize that we need to take precautions and we need to protect ourselves and that anything can happen,” said Judy LeFlore, associate dean for simulation and technology at UT Arlington’s College of Nursing, who has been a registered nurse for more than 30 years
Nursing students learn how to protect themselves from infectious diseases during their first semester and those lessons continue throughout their training.
“What we know is that people learn more from their mistakes than they learn from doing everything perfectly with someone coaching them along,” LeFlore said.