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Officials in Austin Discuss Ramped Up Efforts to Prepare for Any Local Ebola Case

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KUT News
Dr. Philip Huang, medical director of the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department, spoke at a press conference on Ebola on Oct. 16, 2014.

Austin officials say they’re ready for any potential local cases of the Ebola virus.

Starting this week, when someone in Austin and Travis County calls 911 for medical help, an operator will ask more questions than usual about symptoms and travel history so that emergency responders can be prepared.

Dr. Philip Huang, medical director of the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department, says aside from new measures, however, managing infectious disease is nothing new here.

"The situation in West Africa is very frightening, but the conditions and some of the reasons why it spread that way in West Africa are very different from here," Huang said at a press conference today.

At St. David’s HealthCare, hospital officials are also asking more questions when patients come in with potential symptoms. David Thomsen says they're now asking for a travel history dating back 21 days instead of two weeks, and whether that travel included the three most affected countries in West Africa.

He says doctors and nurses are taking a proactive role.

“[They’ve] stepped forward and said, ‘Yes I want to be trained, I want to confident to be able to take care of people that come to our hospitals for care,'" Thomsen said.

St. David's HealthCare system has 82 negative pressure rooms, or isolation rooms, Thomsen says. He says the Seton Family of Hospitals may have an equivalent number.

Officials stress that education about the virus will reduce panic.

“[Infection] we know takes that direct contact with blood or bodily fluids," Huang said. "So it’s not as easily transmissible," as measles or the flu.

Also, it’s not transmissible until people are symptomatic.

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