The state is currently monitoring 12 people for possible Ebola symptoms — all in a low-risk category.
That number fluctuates routinely because of Ebola's short incubation period. Overall, Washington health officials have kept tabs on 20 to 25 people from Ebola-plagued western African nations. said Dr. Kathy Lofy, the state's health officer and head of the Washington Department of Health.
People monitored in the state prior to the current 12 did not show any symptoms of the disease.
Lofy and Carol Wagner of the Washington State Hospital Association briefed the Washington Senate and House's health committees Tuesday on the state's preparations for dealing with the potential arrival of Ebola in Washington.
Since first appearing in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, roughly 20 Ebola outbreaks have occurred. The current outbreak is the largest so far, showing up in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. The first cases recently showed up in neighboring Mali. This outbreak has infected roughly 14,000 people, and has killed about 5,100. The previous fatality rates have ranged from 50 percent to 90 percent. Four cases have shown up in the United States with two being fatal.
The disease originates in bats and other animals. It spreads by direct contact with infected blood and body fluids. or direct contact with contaminated objects. Under dry conditions, an exposed object is likely infectious for a few hours. Under the right temperatures and humidity, an infected object can stay dangerous for days. The disease does not spread through the air or through casual contact that does not involve fluids. A person is not believed to be contagious until the symptoms develop.
The disease's incubation period stretches from two to 21 days, although that time is usually eight to 10 days. Early-stage symptoms are fever, headaches, weakness and muscle pain, which Wagner and Lofy noted are not different from many other common ailments. The later stages show up with vomiting diarrhea, abdominal pain and possibly internal bleeding. There are no vaccines for Ebola, nor treatment beyond making a patient comfortable.
United States flights from Ebola-stricken nations usually come through five airports — New York City's JFK, Newark Liberty, Washington Dulles, Chicago O'Hare or Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson, where the appropriate passengers are screened. The screening information is sent to the individual states, which is how Washington knows who to monitor during the incubation periods. Every hospital and health district in the state can screen for Ebola.
The staffs at eight Washington hospitals have trained and have been equipped for treating Ebola. Three are in Seattle; one each is in Bremerton, Tacoma, Everett, Spokane and Issaquah. The state has been working with ambulance crews to ensure they can transport Ebola patients. The state has also contracted with an environmental cleanup company to handle with cleanup problems
There are three risk categories in monitoring people for Ebola patients. The highest risk is someone actually exposed to infected fluids. The second categories is someone who has worked with Ebola patients while in protective gear. The lowest risk category is someone who had been in an Ebola area without hazardous contact. All 12 of the people being monitored in Washington are in the lowest-risk category, officials said.