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This is what will happen if a person in Ireland gets Ebola

Plans are in place for a number of different scenarios.

Image: AP/Press Association Images

HOSPITALS AND AMBULANCE services have been practising what to do in the case of an Ebola diagnosis in Ireland, a number of top health officials told an Oireachtas committee yesterday.

The Chief Medical Office, the HSE’s director of emergency planning and the head of the Health Protection Surveillance Centre participated in a Q&A with politicians at Leinster House on Ireland’s preparedness for a possible incidence of Ebola.

The experts said there are plans in place to deal with a number of different scenarios, which fall into two categories:

  1. An Irish citizen contracting Ebola abroad and being repatriated home for treatment. 
  2. A person in Ireland presenting with Ebola.

They outlined what would happen if a person displays Ebola-like symptoms after returning from an affected region or has been in contact with somebody who has.

First, the patient has been asked to CONTACT a GP. The experts clarified that the guidance issued this week did not ask people to attend their GP’s surgery. Their advice is to call their doctor on the telephone.

Minister Leo Varadkar told his colleagues that members of the public can’t be expected to know the exact symptoms and signs of Ebola.

“GPs and practice nurses will be able to identify possibilities very quickly – and triage the patient,” he said.

The director of the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, Dr Darina O’Flanagan added that the GP will then take the history and symptoms from the patient over the phone, deciding if they are high risk or not.

If they are concerned about a potential Ebola case, they will arrange a referral to a hospital. 

The presentation to the hospital will not be done in the usual way, according to O’Flanagan. Each hospital has been asked to identify an isolation room where the patient can be brought for initial tests. They will enter the facility in a “controlled manner”.

“The vast majority won’t have Ebola – they will have another infectious disease,” said Holohan, but precautions will be taken anyway.

Laboratory tests will, at that stage, be performed on the patient. If a positive result is confirmed, the National Isolation Unit in the Mater Hospital, Dublin will be contacted and their procedures will get underway.

The National Ambulance Service will also be told to arrange appropriate equipment and protocol for the transfer.

Responding to a question about whether a home setting would be better for the first assessment, O’Flanagan said this would not be “appropriate”.

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The process has been practised in ‘dry runs’ within a number of hospitals across the country. A specialist team that can move into a hospital if a case emerges has been established by the HPSC.

The National Ambulance Service also has processes in place in case they are needed for transfers from airports or other hospitals.

One a patient has been diagnosed, treatment comes from supportive measures as there is no specific cure and all medicines are at their experimental and made-to-order stage.

O’Flanagan noted that patients become more infectious as the disease progresses.

“Those presenting to a GP will not have the same viral load as somebody in an extreme condition in hospital where there are copious amounts of body fluids,” she noted.

There have been 14 suspected cases of Ebola across the country since the recent outbreak,  but 23 tests all returned negative for the horrific disease.

Yesterday: Ireland might see ‘a few cases’ of Ebola. So, how will it cope?

Confirmed: 23 tests for Ebola performed on 14 people in Ireland

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