DOH: Honolulu patient does not meet criteria for Ebola testing

(AP Graphic)

The state Department of Health has determined that an individual who was reported to the department as a possible Ebola case does not meet the criteria for testing.

The department said Thursday that the patient, who was in isolation at Queen’s Medical Center, is no longer under evaluation for possible Ebola infection.

Health Director Dr. Linda Rosen said Thursday that the patient is not ill, not a danger to the community and is expected to be discharged sometime Thursday.

“The hospital acted in the best interests of the community, with an abundance of caution,” she said. “We commend the facility for being prepared and remaining vigilant regarding the risk of Ebola. After investigation by the health department, it was determined that the individual did not meet the clinical or travel exposure criteria for an Ebola infection.”

Rosen would not disclose patient details, but said concerns arose because of travel history, even though the person was “not being very ill” and at “extremely low risk for even having Ebola.”

Rosen lauded Queen’s Medical Center for taking swift action. “They anticipated the arrival of this person in a way that enabled them to protect everyone properly. Then they consulted with the health department and our investigators who went in and did their investigation,” she said. “We believe everything was done properly and of course over time it may be that people feel more comfortable saying, ‘Oh, this might not be Ebola because of this or because of that.’ But in the early stages, just the possibility is something that people will act upon and I think appropriately so.”

Physicians are reminded to follow the guidelines established by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with the nation on heightened alert for possible Ebola cases.

The department said it continues to work with the healthcare community, state, county and federal officials to prepare for a possible Ebola case.

“You might say this was a good test run for us and we were able to strengthen our communication with our partners and key individuals,” Rosen said. “Obviously there’s a great need to know amongst many parts of the community when they even hear about this, so we certainly understand and we are going to be working on even ramping up more in our communication.”

No one has ever been tested for Ebola in Hawaii, and our state has a low-risk for the disease. But health officials say everyone needs to be aware and ready.

Doctors at Kahala Urgent Care say this case is a good reminder to stay vigilant.

“We think about a lot of diseases all the time, but this one’s been off our radar, to some degree. But now it’s a little more of a red flag,” said Dr. Robert Ruggieri.

Health care professionals say all day long, they diagnose and treat people who have fevers, and this case reminds them to take one extra step.

“That we at least think about asking, ‘Have you been traveling recently?’ Just a simple open-ended question like that could bring the right answer to mind,” Ruggieri said.

If anyone has symptoms and recently traveled to West Africa, they should tell their doctor.

“Is it safer for them to just call their physician instead of just walking into a hospital?” KHON2 asked.

“Very good point, you got it. The safest thing is to call first so that everything can kind of be set up. Even though it’s a low-risk, it’s good to set it up and do it right,” Rosen said.

Rosen said the situation alerted the department to public fears and misconceptions. She stressed that Ebola is not contagious if the person infected is not sick. “There is what we call an incubation period meaning that you could have been exposed to the virus and you’re not sick yet and you can travel around and be in public but you could not infect somebody,” she explained. “What is reassuring is that this disease does make people ill and then they generally will not travel or move around a lot once they’re ill and they’ll come into the healthcare system.”

Another misconception is that a patient can immediately be tested for Ebola. “When you have Ebola incubating, your blood test will be negative. You will not have a blood test positive until you are sick and very sick in general. So we’ve even had Ebola patients confirmed, Ebola patients whose tests have been negative in the first few days,” Rosen said.

Rosen also said the chances of an Ebola case going unreported are low, especially in Hawaii. “There’s always a possibility, but considering you have to travel to a very specific part of the country and you have to be in close contact with ill people, the chances that somebody would have that and then come home and be ill and not go in and be reported I think is very, very small,” she said. “There are many risks for infectious diseases in Africa, so we will be having people who travel to Africa who have fever who do not have Ebola, but it’s definitely going to happen and we have to consider Ebola and go through our process.”

Ill patients or concerned public may contact the Department of Health Disease Outbreak Control Division at 586-4586 regarding concerns related to Ebola.

Click here for more information on Ebola.

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