- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 8, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina needs a way to send an immediate alert to a variety of agencies if a case of Ebola is found, the director of the state’s public health agency said Wednesday.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Department of Health and Environmental Control director Catherine Templeton said she wants to ensure that health care providers, as well as first responders and coroners, are all informed quickly if any suspected cases are identified in the state.

Templeton spoke a day before she was set to address a meeting of the Senate Medical Affairs committee. South Carolina Hospitals Association president Thornton Kirby is also set to testify, and lawmakers said they set the meeting to determine if the state is prepared to fight the disease and if the state’s hospitals can manage it.

A Liberian man being treated for Ebola at a Dallas hospital died Wednesday. He was the only known case in the United States.

With a mortality rate of 50 percent, Templeton said prevention is the most important key in containing any potential Ebola outbreak.

“This is one that you have to prevent,” she said. “It’s concentric circles. … It gets to be a real, potentially unmanageable problem.”

What Templeton said she wants is the ability to push out alerts simultaneously to people whose professions might put them on the front lines of identifying a potential Ebola case. As it stands, now, Templeton said her agency can, and does, send health alerts to a variety of entities, like hospitals and other health care providers, who voluntarily sign up for them.

But, when it comes to issues like this one, she wants to reach many more, and to make the alerts mandatory.

“What I’m concerned about is the pink lady volunteer or the insurance intake clerk,” Templeton said. “Or at a health clinic that’s not ours. Or the coroners, the funeralists, the firefighters - those are the ones who are first on the scene. Even teachers.”

Templeton is asking state lawmakers to help her agency gain the permissions it needs to push that information out. In the meantime, she said the state’s hospitals are being told that they don’t necessarily need to set up special isolation wards if Ebola is found in the state. But they do need to know, in advance, how to contain it.

“Isolate the patient,” she said. “You just have to put them in a private room with a private bathroom. It’s not hazmat suits, but they do need to know they need to put on gloves and masks.”

Knowing how to spot Ebola, safely contain it and then contact state health officials is all health care providers and first responders need in order to hopefully keep it from spreading, Templeton said.

“We’re just going to have to have our health care providers able to identify,” she said. “We’re in good shape, but I don’t want to minimize this. This could be bad. It’s a scary disease, and prevention is our best hope to keep it at bay.”

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Kinnard can be reached at https://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP

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