- Associated Press - Monday, December 1, 2014

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - It’s been five weeks since Minnesota began monitoring travelers arriving from Ebola-affected countries, and none of the 120 people screened so far has developed symptoms of the virus. And all have been deemed low-risk.

But that doesn’t mean the task has been easy. The effort has been time-consuming and sometimes complicated by language barriers or bad contact information, public health officials told Minnesota Public Radio (https://bit.ly/1wbPg3Z ).

On the positive side: most people have willingly cooperated with the monitoring, said David Johnson, supervisor of epidemiology in Hennepin County, home to much of Minnesota’s Liberian-American population.

“They’re there at the phone waiting for our call and so we really appreciate it,” said Johnson, whose public health office has monitored about 70 percent of the travelers. “That’s made our jobs just that much easier because of that cooperation.”

Minnesota’s program was set up to make it easier to trace and quickly contain possible Ebola cases in the U.S. Travelers arriving from Ebola-infected West African countries are asked to provide contact information so they can be monitored at their destination for 21 days - the incubation period for Ebola in a person.

Officials are finding much of that contact information wanting. About 40 percent of travelers to Minnesota have been hard to reach, said Kris Ehresmann, the state health department’s infectious diseases director.

“Sometimes you’d just get an email address or you’d just get an international phone number,” she said. “The level of detective work and sleuthing to try and find these individuals was really challenging.”

If travelers weren’t at an address they gave or didn’t answer, disease investigators consulted with property managers and scanned license plates in parking lots to try to locate the person. That’s become less necessary since the Centers for Disease Control began collecting more contact information and issuing travelers prepaid cell phones.

Ehresmann said her team has been able to reach more than 90 percent of travelers, and in most cases without a lot of work.

Some people have required extra time and attention. Epidemiologists tried multiple intrepreters for one traveler before finding one that could speak the traveler’s dialect. Another traveler didn’t read or write and had never used a thermometer, so Ehresmann’s staff figured out a color-coding system to help the person could adequate report what it was showing.


Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, https://www.mprnews.org

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