105 being monitored for Ebola in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania health authorities were monitoring 105 people Monday for Ebola symptoms, although they would not disclose how many were under travel restrictions or quarantine on arriving from outbreak-ravaged West Africa.
The tally includes everyone in the state known to have arrived in the past three weeks from Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone, according to state monitoring rules that took effect this week under a federal directive for six states.
Public health officials could order those with possible Ebola exposure to stay off buses, airplanes and other mass transportation. People with the highest exposure risks could face isolation, the state Department of Health reported.
Still, it resisted the mandatory 21-day quarantines in three states for health care workers who return from the outbreak region, opting instead for a case-by-case approach supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
State health spokeswoman Aimee Tysarczyk said those under monitoring in Pennsylvania were showing no Ebola symptoms and presented no public health threat.
Across-the-board quarantines have become a flashpoint between federal health monitors, who call the measures an unnecessary overreaction, and state policymakers who argue the rules are a common-sense safeguard.
A former CDC specialist, Dr. Eileen Farnon, said the mandates send mixed messages to people worried about how Ebola spreads.
“I think it will have the effect of discouraging people from responding” to West Africa, said Farnon, an infectious disease consultant and Temple University faculty member who advised the World Health Organization on the outbreak. “It’s only a minority of people returning from these areas who will develop symptoms and develop Ebola disease.
“I think what’s needed right now is scientifically based information,” Farnon said, encouraging Illinois, New Jersey and New York to reconsider their quarantine mandates. A nurse who treated patients in Sierra Leone, Kaci Hickox, was forced into quarantine, but New Jersey officials allowed her to return home, where she will stay for three weeks.
Public health agencies insist Ebola-infected people become contagious only when they show symptoms such as a fever, vomiting and diarrhea, which can emerge up to 21 days after exposure to the virus. The stepped-up monitoring in Pennsylvania follows CDC guidelines. Travelers would be hospitalized and isolated immediately if they show symptoms.
State and local health workers will check in twice daily for three weeks with affected travelers, watching for elevated temperatures or other symptoms. Those with no known possible exposure to Ebola will not face travel restrictions, the state health department said.
The department would not release county-by-county tallies of those being monitored. The Allegheny County Health Department director, Dr. Karen Hacker, said no one in the county was subject to monitoring as of Monday afternoon.
Monitoring for any other affected travelers in Western Pennsylvania would fall to the state health department. The state has had no confirmed Ebola cases.
“These people do not represent a public risk. There’s no reason to publicize who they are,” Hacker said.
She said the county could pursue a court order if a person under monitoring refused to provide daily reports or abide by travel restrictions or a quarantine. County law enforcement could enforce the order, Hacker said.
But she said the county has no plan to surveil anyone who might fall under a travel restriction. State officials did not answer questions on that subject.
“We’re talking about folks who have a very low risk for any problems,” Hacker said.
Pennsylvania and five other states with similar monitoring account for 70 percent of about 100 people who arrive each day in the United States from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, CDC Director Thomas Frieden said. He said those who cared for Ebola patients should voluntarily quarantine themselves, but he would not disclose how many travelers nationwide are under active monitoring.
The Virginia health department said it was watching at least 53 people Monday for Ebola, and the Georgia Department of Public Health said it was monitoring 63 people. Maryland, New Jersey and New York did not release statistics to the Tribune-Review.
“We are concerned about the responses we’ve seen in some areas,” Dr. Frieden said, cautioning against stigmatizing people from Ebola-affected countries.
More than 4,900 people in West Africa have died from Ebola since December. A man from Liberia died this month after contracting the virus there and carrying it to Dallas, Texas, where two of his hospital nurses caught the disease from him. They recovered.
Staff writer Megha Satyanarayana contributed. Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or [email protected].