The six most frequently asked questions from the Nov. 5, 6, 7 WSMR Town Halls.
Q1: How will we know if a visitor has Ebola and may contaminate another person on post?
A1: A person who is infected with Ebola does not become contagious until symptoms appear. The most common initial symptom is a fever. Currently, the visitors are taking their own temperature twice a day and reporting it to McAfee Army Health Clinic medical staff. In addition, McAfee medical staff is taking the visitors’ temperature every day and conducting a daily face-to-face evaluation to monitor the visitors for symptoms of Ebola including severe headache, muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain or unexplained bleeding. This additional precautionary measure exceeds national and state guidelines. A fever caught with these temperature checks will be the first indication that a visitor may have the disease. At that point, a person becomes contagious.
Q2: If the visitor’s temperature spikes, what happens to the visitor?
A2: The visitor would be isolated and transported by a pre-determined ambulance agency coordinated by the New Mexico Department of Health to a facility for further testing. If the fever is due to Ebola, the visitor would be transported to a hospital capable of treating the Ebola virus. If the fever was caused by another medical reason, such as pneumonia, we would treat the cause and send the visitor back to the host family.
Q3. In the future, will we always be informed when a West African visitor comes on post?
A3. An estimated 1,000 visitors from West Africa arrive in the U.S. each week. White Sands Missile Range will likely have more visitors from West Africa in the future, but we will not make a public announcement each time. We will maintain our additional precautionary measures of monitoring West African visitors with visual daily checks conducted by McAfee Medical Clinic personnel. If there is a medical threat to the people who live and work on WSMR, post leadership will inform the post populace immediately.
Q4: Can the visitors transmit Ebola to their host family who could then spread it around post?
A4: First, there is no indication the visitors have the Ebola virus. Only people who have symptoms of Ebola can transmit the virus to others. The risk of spreading the infection to others increases as the disease progresses. The likely initial symptom that the visitors are contagious is a fever. The visitors are monitored three times a day, and if we discover a symptom, such as a fever, the visitor would be isolated and taken off post for testing. Because Ebola is not contagious until symptoms appear, our monitoring would discover it at about the same time the visitors would be able to pass it to the family. The family would then begin monitoring and their movement would be restricted. Even if it were transmitted to the family, which is unlikely because we isolated and removed the visitor at such an early stage, the family could not transmit the disease to anyone else because they are not symptomatic at that point. The family members would begin self-monitoring and restricted movement at least two days before any symptoms would appear, at which point they become contagious.
Q5: How long can the Ebola virus lives outside the body?
A5: The Ebola virus can survive in the environment for many hours to several days. It is easily killed with basic cleaning procedures.
Q6: Would flu symptoms start a 21 day quarantine for someone displaying them?
A6: Flu symptoms that resemble Ebola symptoms in a person that is being monitored would begin testing for the disease, which would include isolation. Since the most common signs and symptoms of Ebola are not unique to this infection, and they are the same as more common diseases such as influenza, there is a screening criterion. Screeners are looking for a positive travel history to West Africa within 21 days of the current complaint.