- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 8, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - State health officials asked members of local West African communities on Wednesday to monitor their relatives who are returning from Ebola-affected countries.

The Department of Health holds weekly meetings to share information about Ebola and answer questions. Attendees at this week’s meeting asked whether people who had been to West Africa recently should be taken straight to hospitals or quarantined in facilities when they arrive in Rhode Island.

Health officials said neither option is practical. Executive health director Ana Novais stressed that just because someone had been to West Africa it does not mean he or she is an Ebola patient.

“Do not panic,” she said.

Novais said relatives of people who have returned from West Africa should monitor them by checking their body temperature twice a day and calling a doctor immediately if symptoms develop.

Liberian nurse Nellie Francis Sirleaf-Savice said she worried they wouldn’t. Sirleaf-Savice, who leads a Liberian advocacy group, said she knew of several people who, after arriving in Rhode Island this weekend, said they don’t have time to monitor their health.

She said she was worried because many Liberians get together frequently, so the virus could spread quickly.

Elaine Parker-Williams, president of a Liberian nurses’ organization, said it may be a good idea to buy and distribute thermometers and educate people about the importance of checking for a fever and other symptoms of Ebola.

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed attended the meeting and said he would support the community in its efforts.

The Ebola virus, which causes a hemorrhagic fever, is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids. The World Health Organization estimates the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa has killed more than 3,400 people.

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