Healthy Choices

Sacramento patient tests negative for deadly Ebola virus

Sacramento residents can breathe easier knowing that the nation’s top public health experts have ruled out an Ebola viral infection in a patient quarantined this week at Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Medical Center.

Blood samples from the patient, who’d just returned from a trip to West African nations hard hit by the virus, were found to be negative for strains of the notoriously deadly Ebola virus.

Nearly 70 such samples had been air-shipped to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta for analysis in recent days from 27 states, as fear spread that U.S. international travel would introduce the virus to America. The vast majority are testing negative for the virus.

CDC officials notified the California Department of Public Health and Kaiser Permanente officials late Thursday that the unidentified patient held in isolation at the south Sacramento hospital was not a carrier of the deadly Ebola virus.

Ron Chapman, who as director of the state department is California’s top guardian of public health, gathered at a news conference Thursday night at the hospital with Kaiser officials and Kate McAuley, chief infectious disease officer of Sacramento County.

In a chorus of reassuring statements, the officials said that, at this point, the Golden State has no active cases of Ebola. In addition, no high-risk patients are being tested or held in isolation.

“We are pleased with the negative outcome of the Ebola test and wish the patient a speedy recovery,” Chapman said. “The case in Sacramento County demonstrates that the system is working. This patient was quickly identified, appropriate infection control procedures were implemented, and public health authorities were notified.”

Ebola has devastated several countries in West Africa, causing more than 1,200 deaths and alienating those who’ve survived the illness from family and friends afraid of catching the virus.

Symptoms may appear anywhere from two to 21 days after exposure to the zoonotic virus and include fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain and abnormal bleeding.

It is classified as a viral hemorrhagic fever because of the high temperatures it triggers and unusual bleeding. In West Africa and other regions where health care infrastructures are weak, Ebola is feared because of its high mortality.

While there are no specific treatments, new drug formulas are being developed and tested by pharmaceutical companies.

In the U.S., however, patients stand a greater chance of survival because health care personnel have been well trained and are tested yearly on their skills at curbing viruses that are spread by bodily fluids, as is Ebola.

Coming into contact with sweat, blood, bodily wastes, nasal spray from sneezes and fluids transmitted by sexual intercourse are some of the ways that the potent Ebola virus spreads from one person to another.

U.S. clinicians are prepared to identify and isolate potential Ebola sufferers in sealed-off facilities that all hospitals in California are required to have.

Though the patient at the south Sacramento Kaiser facility was given a clean bill of health from the Ebola virus, officials were not willing to give out any information about his or her identity, gender, ethnicity or age.

For one thing, privacy laws forbid such disclosure, and the patient is presumably still sick, suffering perhaps from a different virus or ailment.

Health care providers involved in the case expressed satisfaction at the mutual cooperation they received from their partners.

“We’ve been working very closely with state, federal and local agencies in partnership and I thought it was very beautifully executed,” said Dr. Richard Issacs, a chief physician at the Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Medical Center.

“It expedited the evaluation, and we’re really delighted with the news that the patient is negative for Ebola. And along the way we protected the patient, we protected other patients, we protected our nurses, physicians and staff,” Issacs said.

The hospital’s chief of infectious diseases, Dr. John Belko, said, “We’re always proactively looking for situations like this, to see what are the possibilities for someone who’s coming in sick having something unusual, different or exotic … and trying to catch these things before it gets too widely spread.”