- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 14, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Emergency rooms are starting to see patients that doctors are calling “the worried well” showing up with flu-like symptoms that have them concerned about Ebola, state health officials said Tuesday.

Fever and diarrhea are common complaints with any type of viral illness and especially now that flu season is approaching, said Dr. Carol Cunningham, state medical director for the Ohio Department of Public Safety.

The key is to remember that contracting the Ebola virus would involve a history of travel to three countries in West Africa only, she said.

“Without that history, it’s more likely to be a viral illness,” she said, reminding people that it’s important to get a flu shot.

Any report of Ebola would launch a ripple effect of health officials immediately identifying anyone who had contact with a patient, added Sheila Hiddleson, with the Association of Ohio Health Commissioners.

“We will call you,” she said. “If we think that you’ve been exposed, even if it’s a remote exposure, we’re going to be contacting you, so hopefully that will help with the worried well not showing up at the hospital doors.”

In Dallas, a nurse became infected with Ebola while treating the first patient diagnosed in the U.S.

Also on Tuesday, the World Health Organization projected that West Africa could see up to 10,000 new Ebola cases a week within two months and confirmed the death rate in the current outbreak has risen to 70 percent.

Ohio hospitals have access to equipment such as protective suits they would need in the unlikely event of an outbreak, said Michael Abrams, president and CEO of the Ohio Hospital Association.

A measles outbreak in Ohio’s Amish community earlier this year was attributed to an unvaccinated Amish man contracting the disease on a trip to the Philippines. But the state has no plans to warn against travel because of Ebola.

“There’s a really wonderful impulse to help and we don’t want to discourage people from going over to do that,” said Heath Department director Richard Hodges. “We’re just trying to equip them with the information so that they know how to protect themselves and also know what to look for when they return mostly to reassure themselves that they don’t have Ebola.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say travelers should avoid nonessential travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in West Africa and practice enhanced caution if traveling to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The CDC has authorized the Ohio Health Department to conduct initial Ebola testing, with confirmation testing done by the federal agency.

Ebola is spread through direct contact with the blood or body fluids of someone with the virus, or through items contaminated with the person’s blood or body fluids. Ebola is not spread through the air, food or water.


Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.

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