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Michigan on guard for Ebola cases

Chad Livengood and Steve Pardo, The Detroit News

Detroit — Following the first case of Ebola in the United States in Texas, Gov. Rick Snyder and health officials have been redoubling efforts readying for the possibility of a case ever arriving here.

Snyder said Monday his administration is preparing to handle an Ebola-stricken patient, should one show up at a Michigan hospital.

The governor said he's been in almost daily contact with state health and emergency management officials since the first case of the deadly virus was confirmed last week in Texas.

"People are all working together to ensure that we have our contingency plans in place," Snyder said in an interview with The Detroit News editorial board. "We're learning based on what we're seeing down in Texas. ... We're also making sure people aren't just sitting back on this, that they're going to be prepared to move quickly."

Snyder said he has tasked health officials with ensuring Michigan's network of hospitals and health care facilities are "all ready to go" should someone testing positive for Ebola need to be quarantined.

"I may be overstating this, but I think almost every hospital in Michigan is equipped to do the isolation work that we need to do," Snyder said.

Angela Minicuci, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Community Health, said the department has been working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and area hospitals.

"We have been communicating information between the CDC, MDCH and our local partners for quite some time now, not just since Texas had its first confirmed case," Minicuci said in an email. "All hospitals have isolation units. There is no one set protocol for how Michigan would respond, as rather our intention is to be able to respond whenever, wherever, or however Ebola or any other disease may arrive in Michigan."

Michigan doesn't have a known case of Ebola. However, employees at the Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids were tested last week when a patient who had been in West Africa showed up at the hospital Wednesday with a fever.

The hospital placed the patient in isolation and notified the Kent County Health Department. It was quickly confirmed the person did not visit an area where Ebola was found.

"The person did not meet the criteria for testing, was not tested, and was diagnosed with an illness that is not Ebola," Lisa LaPlante, Kent County Health Department spokeswoman, said in an email statement.

At the Detroit Medical Center, lists of affected African countries are in emergency areas so personnel know the danger zones. A person coming in with a fever is immediately asked about recent travels, said Dr. Teena Chopra, a DMC infectious disease specialist. The patient is also asked if he or she has been in contact with any family members who are sick, she said.

If necessary, a patient would be quickly isolated.

"We are very much ready and prepared," Chopra said.

At Beaumont Health System, employees have been trained on how to handle cases. Medical personnel can use a new "high containment" area that not only isolates droplets, but airborne pathogens.

"Airborne precautions are probably more than we need," said Dr. Matthew Sims, Beaumont's director of infectious disease research. "Everybody's getting trained. Everybody's in the loop. I think we're about as ready as we can be."

The advanced medical infrastructure in the U.S. and policies would limit the scope of Ebola, Sims said.

"Even if it did get in, the spread is not expected to be large," he said.

Snyder said he wants to make sure hospitals don't have their medical emergency plans "stuck back in some dusty file."

"If it's to crop up, we don't know where it could happen," Snyder told The News. "And so you have to be prepared in essentially every corner of the state."

The governor said he didn't want to overstate the state's preparation level.

"We're taking proactive steps to make sure we're prepared," Snyder said. "I don't want to say 'Are we set for everything?' That would be an overstatement. But we're continuing a dialogue to make sure that people are on an enhanced level of awareness, that we're doing the steps and procedures both at the state and with our local partners."

Snyder's comments occurred as Texas Gov. Rick Perry created Monday a task force of epidemiology and infectious disease experts to prepare a more comprehensive plan to deal with the Ebola virus and other pandemic diseases.

"This task force will develop a comprehensive, long-term plan to ensure Texas deals effectively with any potential outbreak, building on our existing State Emergency Plan and will cover all phases of preparedness and response," Perry said in a statement.

When a travel-related case of Ebola was detected in Dallas, the CDC sent in 10 experts to assist Texas state and local health officials. The team included three senior scientists, five "disease detectives," a public health adviser and a communications officer.

The CDC experts were assigned to "help ensure that proper infection control procedures are followed and monitor health care workers treating or attending to the patient," according to an agency statement.

John Snider, registered nurse and the emergency preparedness coordinator at Henry Ford Hospital, said area hospitals are "very well prepared" in the case of Ebola. "We've been working for years on infectious diseases. Ebola isn't the first one that's alarmed us."

Good hygiene and health habits go a long way in protecting against viruses — including Ebola.

"We can defeat these. They're not magical creatures," he said. "A little bit of common sense and a cool, clear head will get you through this kind of crisis."

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