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Hospitals prep for possibility of Ebola as state monitors 10 who’ve traveled from West Africa

Update: The state Dept. of Community Health now says it is monitoring nine people who traveled to west Africa, not 10 as it previously reported.  

The state Department of Community Health says it’s monitoring nine people in Michigan to see if they develop Ebola symptoms after they returned to the U.S. from west Africa. But health officials say none of them is  displaying any symptoms to suggest they might have contracted the Ebola virus on their travels.

Jennifer Smith of the Michigan Department of Community Health says instances of similar symptoms in Michigan patients have all turned out to be something else.

“There have been instances where people have Ebola-like symptoms, which isn’t uncommon because a lot of the early symptoms are symptoms you would also have if you have the flu or a common cold,” Smith said.

The nine people are required to check in with their local health departments twice a day and report symptoms such as fever or vomiting.

And, Smith says, while the threat from Ebola in Michigan is slight, there are other infectious diseases that kill people in Michigan, such as the flu. 

“The best thing people can do to protect their health is to remain up to date on their vaccinations to protect against diseases that are preventable, like the flu," she said.

It’s expected about one in 10 people in the state will become infected during the coming flu season. Last year, four children in Michigan died from the flu.

Meanwhile, health systems across the state are preparing for the possibility that someone with the Ebola virus will show up at one of their hospitals.

Spectrum Health System held a press conference in Grand Rapids to explain what it's done to prepare for a potential Ebola case.

A nurse slowly demonstrated for several TV cameras how they’ve been trained to help each other put on and take off head-to-toe protective gear using a buddy system. 

Dr. Michael Kramer is chief quality officer at Spectrum Health. He says they’re training all emergency department staff to deal with any possible suspected Ebola case, plus 22 other health care workers who’ve volunteered to be part of a special Ebola response team.

“We expect that because of the screening that’s occurring out of country, in country, and then the communication with the local health departments that we would know about suspected cases before they even got here,” Kramer said.

Kramer says people who may have Ebola would not come through a main entrance or sit in a hospital waiting room.

Spectrum has 139 of the special units that would be needed to isolate people who may have Ebola. Nearly 100 of those units are in Grand Rapids.

“As we were thinking about H1N1, we were prepared to have tents and extra capacity; we don’t think we’re ever going to need that in this case. Ebola is not spreading to that extent,” he said.

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station'sAmplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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