Michigan monitors 10 for Ebola virus
State health officials are now monitoring 10 people for the Ebola virus, but they don't have symptoms, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health.
The number of people under observation for the deadly virus increased by two overnight, Michigan Department of Community Health spokeswoman Jennifer Smith said Wednesday morning. The Detroit News reported that eight people were being monitored as of late Tuesday evening.
Under federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 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.
All of the individuals were flagged by enhanced screening procedures at airports, Smith said. Under the enhanced CDC guidelines that took effect Monday, all travelers to the United States from the three West African nations most affected by Ebola — Liberia, New Guinea and Sierra Leone — must enter through international airports located in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Chicago, New York and New Jersey, which handle 94 percent of incoming traffic from those nations.
"The majority of people coming to the U.S. are entering from those five airports, (and) these are all people that we became aware of through the advanced screening process," Smith said.
The state would not say which airports the individuals entered the country through, but Smith noted that some people were flagged prior to Monday — leaving open the possibility that they entered the country through Detroit Metro or another airport. The people being monitored are in different counties, but their locations are not being disclosed.
"These are all people who are low-risk, have no exposure to Ebola, and are not showing any symptoms," Smith said. "It's a good thing that we're prepared to respond should anyone begin to show symptoms.
Last week, Gov. Rick Snyder rolled out a comprehensive plan to manage Ebola involving the Michigan State Police and multiple state departments, as well as hospitals and other health care providers. Asked if the Health Department or Governor's Office informed the Michigan State Police or other agencies about the individuals now under observation, Smith said: "We are in constant contact with our partners, local public health, first responders and the Michigan State Police.
"This really is a coordinated effort between all of us and the health community."
The state previously said the 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. The Department of Community Health wouldn't provide details on how many of the eight monitored individuals are related to each other, but 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.
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.
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.