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Protecting Missourians from Ebola or other infectious diseases

National headlines have been dominated recently with stories on Ebola as we have now seen documented cases here in the United States. It’s natural to be concerned about this deadly but rare disease that is caused by infection with one of the Ebola virus strains. At the same time it is important to understand that Ebola is not easily spread and that the risk of outbreak here in Missouri is very low.

The Ebola viruses are not spread through the air, or by water, or, in general, by food. Instead, they are spread through direct contact with infected blood or bodily fluids. This very limited method for transmission makes a rapid spread of the disease unlikely, and allows properly trained experts to control an outbreak in the unlikely event one would happen.

Despite the very limited chance such an outbreak could happen here in Missouri, officials have already begun preparations to effectively manage any cases of Ebola should they appear. The state actually began preparations long before the first patient tested positive here in the United States. For months now, public health officials, first responders and hospitals here in Missouri have been engaged and working together to assure an appropriate and effective response should a patient be identified in Missouri. Just a few weeks ago, the Missouri Department of Health collaborated with the State Emergency Management Agency to provide extra, comprehensive training to more than 200 representatives from public health agencies, emergency medical services, hospitals, long term care providers, law enforcement, schools, and other state agencies. Those who attended received Ebola-specific information such as what the symptoms look like, what to do if someone presents with those symptoms, who to contact, and what processes should be put into place. Also, the state provided even more education and outreach to hospitals on October 16th at a statewide conference, and has plans to do even more training exercises regionally on protocol and decontamination processes as well.

Furthermore, the health department has worked with our various public health agencies on a daily basis to help hospitals and medical providers around the state to prepare for and to identify potential Ebola-infected patients. Medical providers now have around the clock access to state and regional epidemiological staff, and the health department continues to disseminate vital information to health care providers regarding Ebola preparedness, identification and treatment.

In other good news, our Missouri State Public Health Laboratory was recently certified as an Ebola testing laboratory by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As a certified lab we can quickly confirm or rule out a case of Ebola, respond quickly in these situations, and help our health care providers to provide a more effective and immediate response that will in turn better protect the public.

Even more good news came last week when the governor released $3.3 million in funds that the legislature had appropriated for our local public health agencies. By receiving these much-needed dollars they will now be better equipped to combat Ebola and other health concerns such as the flu and foodborne illnesses.

Taken in combination, these many efforts show that our state is taking aggressive steps to assure the appropriate Ebola readiness and response in the health care systems and communities of Missouri. I am confident that we are ready to deal with a case of Ebola should one arise, but hopeful that this deadly disease will not spread to the Show-Me State.

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