Twin Ports prepared for infectious diseases, including Ebola

By KBJR News 1

August 5, 2014 Updated Aug 5, 2014 at 11:22 AM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) --- Across western Africa thousands of volunteers and peace workers are being called home.

As the Ebola virus spreads, sickening thousands and killing hundreds, fear is growing and Americans are getting out of harm's way.

This weekend the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a reminder to healthcare workers across the U.S. warning them to be extra vigilant in medical screenings.

In Duluth healthcare professionals at Essentia–St. Mary's say they are well–prepared to handle any infectious or contagious disease.

23–year old Gina Cotone of Duluth is home today after being evacuated from Guinea late last week.

Just a month into her two year commitment to the Peace Corps, Cotone is one of 300 volunteers who were brought back to the U.S. due to the increasing spread of Ebola.

“They gave us instructions on how to you know, check our temperature and to monitor us and all that kinds of stuff,” Peace Corps Volunteer/Duluth, Cotone, said.

Health officials checked to make sure the Peace Corps volunteers weren't harboring the Ebola virus.

“We got tested before we left the country,” Cotone said.

While heeding the CDC warnings to cautiously screen anyone returning from any of the countries of concern for Ebola, Minnesota health officials say the risk of the disease being spread in Minnesota is very low. Despite that Duluth hospitals take the warning very seriously.

“Anyone who comes in with fevers or significant travel history, which is one of the main questions that we would have for any of the patients that we would be seeing, it significantly changes our differential diagnosis and ratchets up what's a possible prevalence of disease,” Essentia Emergency Doctor, Dr. John Holst, said.

The head of emergency services for Essentia St. Mary's says the hospital is well prepared to handle any contagious and infectious diseases with well–trained medical staff and specially designed and maintained rooms.

“Negative air flow is where we do not want the existing air to recycle. We want to take the air out of the room, vent it to the outside environment and pull in fresh air. So we are constantly recycling fresh air into the environment, pulling out an airborne virus,” Essentia Director of Emergency Services, Evie Michaelson, said.

Essentia hospitals have more than 50 negative flow rooms for infectious and contagious patients, 29 of them in Duluth and Superior.

“We feel very competent and comfortable we protect, not only the patient that we're protecting and taking care of, as well as the people around them,” Holst said.

Medical professionals say any patient coming in with infectious or contagious symptoms is immediately triaged into isolation and asked about their travel history.

Doctors and nurses have immediate access to personal protective suits that will significantly reduce exposure. After triage the patient would be housed in a negative airflow room.

“The first line of defense, the emergency department practices that on a routine basis,” Michaelson said.

Meanwhile Gina Cotone says she feels safer at home but is anxious to get back to service with the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps told its volunteers that this hiatus could last anywhere from four weeks to several months.

Barbara Reyelts