For a long time, Ebola virus disease was relegated to the back pages of the newspaper, affecting a few poor areas in Africa, thousands of miles away. First identified in 1976, the disease takes its name from the Ebola River, which runs near a village with one of the first outbreaks. Today, with the death of a patient in Texas and reports of his nurse also infected, Ebola headlines the news media almost hourly. What was once a distant curiosity has become the issue du jour, and our public health officials are busy responding.
The World Health Organization notes that community engagement is necessary to control outbreaks of disease successfully. Whether we are aware of it or not, the public health system in this country directs that engagement, working with health care providers, residents, and businesses. Such public health systems do not exist in the African countries (Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea) currently affected by the Ebola outbreak. Recently, I spoke with Fairfax County’s Health Director, Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu, about the issue. “This is what we do. We do this every day,” Dr. Gloria told me, referring to the protocols the Health Department uses to combat any communicable disease – tuberculosis, measles, sexually transmitted diseases, various iterations of flu, etc. Health Department officials are on call 24 hours a day, ready to respond to an airport, train station, or other public location where a communicable disease is suspected. A recent case of measles was reported by a physician; health investigators tracked down and evaluated all those who may have come in contact with the infected youngster, including at a Walmart store, to provide necessary medical intervention; the child recovered; and no additional cases of measles have been reported. A similar approach would be used if an Ebola patient was diagnosed in this region.
At Inova Health Systems, Northern Virginia’s largest health care provider, with five hospitals serving patients, its Ebola Task Force has been implementing infection control measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control for the past two months. The CDC also has quarantine stations at selected airports, including Dulles, that are staffed routinely with medical officers. For more information, please visit The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site at www.cdc.gov.
Residents can do a lot to promote wellness and control infection. The Health Department recommends getting a flu shot (we are heading into flu season very soon); cover coughs and sneezes appropriately; stay home when sick; and, perhaps the easiest of all, wash your hands frequently. Ebola may be re-focusing attention to infection control, but these basic practices are just what the doctor ordered!
The annual Annandale Fall Festival and Parade will be held on Saturday, October 25. The Parade steps off at 10 a.m. from the intersection of Columbia Pike and Gallows Road, followed by the Fall Festival at the Little River Shopping Center parking lot on Little River Turnpike until 4 p.m. Gather up the family for a day of free fun and activities, rain or shine.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.