Southeast Michigan under winter weather advisory

Michigan monitors 8 for Ebola virus

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

Eight people in Michigan are being monitored to see if they develop the Ebola virus, but none has shown symptoms of the deadly disease, the Michigan Department of Community Health confirmed Tuesday.

The individuals are located in several Michigan counties, which Department of Community Health spokeswoman Angela Minicuci would not identify.

“There are eight individuals in the state of Michigan who we’re monitoring per the CDC guidance,” Minicuci said, referring to guidelines created by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We’re not releasing counties. We’re respecting the privacy of individuals.”

The state health department was very circumspect Tuesday, declining to give any details about who the people are or how they may have been exposed.

Under CDC guidelines that went into effect Monday, individuals at any risk of exposure to the virus should be actively monitored until 21 days after the last potential exposure, even if they show no symptoms of the disease. “Active monitoring” means that the state or local public health authority assumes responsibility for keeping in regular communication with potentially exposed people, including checking daily for the presence of symptoms and fever, rather than relying solely on individuals to self-monitor and report symptoms if they develop.

The guidelines are not mandatory.

But governors in New York and New Jersey instituted mandatory 21-day quarantines of travelers from West Africa, while Connecticut’s governor Monday ordered all travelers from Liberia, New Guinea and Sierra Leone to undergo “active mandatory monitoring” for 21 days. The state would then issue quarantines as deemed “necessary.”

Michigan has no such quarantine requirement.

Minicuci said the eight cases are not all related to a single source of possible contact with the virus — as might occur, for example, if one person traveling from West Africa had contact with seven relatives or friends in Michigan. She wouldn’t provide details on how many of the eight monitored individuals are related to each other, but she noted the monitoring will end at different times because “a variety of travel times” are involved.

News of the possible Michigan exposures comes as states and countries consider how best to protect residents without discouraging people from volunteering to care for Ebola victims overseas. Australia on Tuesday became the first developed country to ban travelers from the West African countries worst hit by the virus.

Roughly 5,000 people have been killed by Ebola worldwide since March, mostly in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. The disease is not considered terribly contagious because it’s believed to be spread only through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person. But the virus is highly infectious, once a person is exposed, and frequently is fatal.

Minicuci would not say how many, if any, of the eight people being monitored were flagged by CDC health workers at Detroit Metro Airport.

Airport spokesman Michael Conway said Detroit Metro firefighters transported a woman to Oakwood Hospital in Wayne on Oct. 16. The woman, a native of the West African nation of Mali, fainted while trying to board a plane.

“Our firefighters checked her out, consulted with CDC, and they both determined she was not symptomatic,” Conway said. “They wore PPE (personal protective equipment) because they knew Mali was the country of origin.”

It was not clear if the Mali woman is among those being monitored by the state.

A week and a half ago, Oakland County health officials said they were monitoring a Liberian man visiting a relative in Oak Park, who they said shows no symptoms of the condition.

The man, who has not been named, entered the United States through an airport in New York City, where he “was screened in accordance with CDC protocol before being permitted to enter the country,” Oakland County Health Division officials said. “The man said he had had no contact with anyone known to have the Ebola virus and was observed to be symptom free at the time of arrival.”

Gov. Rick Snyder has sought in recent weeks to reassure Michiganians that the state is on top of the Ebola issue. Michigan’s 191 hospitals include roughly 1,000 isolation beds that can be used to treat Ebola if needed, the governor said, but the state health department did not provide details on where in the state those beds are located or which hospitals don’t have them.

Snyder said Michigan has launched an expansive preparedness effort, though not a single case of the Ebola virus has been detected in the state.

Oakland County officials said they learned about the man from the Michigan Department of Community Health, which had been informed by the CDC. It’s unclear if that person is among the eight confirmed Tuesday as being monitored.

David Seaman, executive vice president of the Michigan Health and Hospital Association, said all Michigan hospitals are prepared to identify Ebola and isolate suspected cases, though not all hospitals have the advanced skills and equipment to treat Ebola patients.

Snyder noted Michigan is among 14 states with a laboratory capable of testing for the Ebola virus. Dr. Matthew Davis, chief medical executive of the Michigan Department of Community Health, said the laboratory has not yet performed any Ebola tests because there have been no suspected cases in the state.

“Ebola is hopefully a low-threat, low-risk problem in the state of Michigan, but it’s a serious one,” Snyder said last week. “This is an evolving situation ... (and) we’re preparing to adjust as circumstances change.”