- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 1, 2014

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Long before a man was diagnosed with the Ebola virus in neighboring Texas, Louisiana’s health department was working on what to do in case someone with the disease showed up in the state.

The most important thing to know is that people don’t need to worry about Ebola unless they’ve recently traveled to West Africa or been in very close contact with someone who is clearly sick and has the virus, said Dr. Frank Welch, the Department of Health and Hospitals’ medical director for community preparedness, and Dr. Jimmy Guidry, the state health officer.

Anyone sick enough to transmit the disease is almost certainly too ill to be walking around in public, and it’s transmitted only through bodily fluids such as blood, saliva or excrement, Welch said.

Although coughs and sneezes contain saliva, Guidry said, “to get enough virus to infect you, someone would almost have to sneeze in your eye.”

Gov. Bobby Jindal met with agency heads for an update on Louisiana’s preparations and precautions on Wednesday, a day after federal health officials confirmed that a man who had recently traveled from Liberia to Dallas has the virus.

“First and foremost, it’s important to note that there are no known cases of Ebola in Louisiana,” he said in a news release. “However, if there ever were a case in our state, Louisiana is prepared.”

DHH has been working on what-if preparations for five or six weeks because it was inevitable that someone with the virus would show up somewhere in the United States, Welch and Guidry said.

Jindal said in a news release that Louisiana National Guard medical lab teams with portable testing equipment are on standby if needed to help identify the virus, as are the Guard’s medical treatment tech teams and biohazard resources.

About 10 days ago, Welch said, colleges and universities in Louisiana were told to get in touch with students returning to school from West Africa, get good information about where they’d been, and tell them to report and see a doctor if any symptoms of Ebola occurred within 21 days.

“We did not get a report of any student who returned from West Africa who had symptoms,” he said.

The department also has been in touch with organizations that send missionary or medical teams to Africa.

It’s working now on information for school districts to send teachers and parents, department spokeswoman Olivia Watkins said. She said it will emphasize that Ebola’s symptoms are common and parents should worry only if a child with those symptoms had recently traveled from West Africa or been in close contact with someone ill with the virus.

“We’re carrying some of this stuff on social media, too,” she said. “So while all these Ebola stories are online folks can share simple information provided by DHH.”


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