Health officials offer misleading reassurances on Ebola in wake of patient #4

Just minutes before it was announced that Dr. Craig Spencer had tested positive for Ebola in New York City, Kaiser Permanente members in California were treated to an email assuring them that Kaiser is prepared to respond to any Ebola cases that might come its way.  Pointing to experts who maintain that an epidemic is unlikely, Kaiser reminds members that Ebola can only be transmitted through direct contact with infected bodily fluids or contaminated objects.  Curiously -- maybe not for California -- the only contaminated object listed is “needles.”  There is no mention of arm rests in public transportation vehicles, door knobs, bathroom surfaces or contaminated blankets and clothes. 

Ironically, in less than an hour after Kaiser’s email hit member inboxes, Mayor DeBlasio, Governor Cuomo and Dr. Mary Bassett -- New York City’s Health Commissioner -- held a press conference in which the Mayor opined “Being on the same subway car or living near a person with Ebola does not in itself put someone at risk.”  He neglected to mention that folks in the Big Apple are indeed at a significantly higher risk for exposure than had they not been in the same subway car or neighborhood as the infected individual.  And, the overall risk to New Yorkers would be considerably lower than it is currently, post-Dr. Craig Spencer, if travel bans had been instituted and 21-day quarantines were the rule.  Warm words, cold comfort, Mr. Mayor. 

Dr. Mary Bassett added that “it [is] extremely unlikely, the probability being close to nil, that there will be any problem related to his [Dr. Spencer] taking the subway system.” But this hardly squares with earlier acknowledgements from officials that Dr. Spencer’s travels on several subway lines from Harlem to Brooklyn, his evening at a bowling alley, and his return trip by taxi have “highlighted the challenges involved in containing the virus, especially in a crowded metropolis.”

So, it’s hard to contain Ebola in crowded cities, in crowded subway cars, in crowded sidewalks -- all places Ebola patient #4 traversed -- but there is virtually no risk of exposure and, we shouldn’t be alarmed, even though Kaiser just sent a warning shot across the bow to its members. Here's their email:



A message from Kaiser Permanente about Ebola

The outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa and recent cases here in the United States are serious. We want you to know that Kaiser Permanente is monitoring the situation closely and taking direct action in response to be sure we’re ready. As always, your health and well-being are our top priorities.

Most public health experts continue to believe it’s very unlikely that Ebola will become an epidemic in the U.S. Even so, we’re committed to being prepared in the rare event the virus does spread beyond the recent cases in Texas.

What is Kaiser Permanente doing to prepare?
We’re dedicated to protecting our patients, members, physicians, nurses, and entire staff. We’ve taken a wide range of steps to be ready to safely evaluate and treat anyone who might have Ebola:

  • We’re meeting or exceeding all recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and are working closely with public health officials. This includes making sure our caregivers have the right equipment and training in case they do need to treat a patient with Ebola.
  • We’ve updated our clinical procedures and training protocols based on the latest information from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the handful of cases here in the U.S.
  • We’re following national and state standards for early detection and care.
  • We have an expert team of infectious disease and emergency management specialists overseeing the process to make sure our patients and staff are protected.

What to do if you have symptoms or think you’ve been exposed
Public health experts have confirmed that Ebola can only be spread through direct contact with the body fluids of someone sick with Ebola, or objects contaminated with the virus (like needles).
This means:

  • Ebola is NOT spread through casual contact.
  • Ebola can only be spread when people who have the virus are actively showing symptoms.

If you recently traveled to Sierra Leone, Guinea, or Liberia and have a fever or are otherwise ill, or you’ve been in contact with someone who was diagnosed with Ebola, call our appointment and advice line for additional instructions at 1-866-454-8855.

Please call us before coming to a Kaiser Permanente facility. This will help our medical staff direct you to the right location and quickly provide you with the best care possible. However, if you reasonably believe you’re experiencing a medical or psychiatric emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital.

What are the symptoms?
The most important early symptom of Ebola in someone who’s been exposed to the virus is a fever. Patients may also have: headache, joint and muscle aches, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, lack of appetite, or abnormal bleeding. Symptoms may appear anytime from 2 to 21 days after exposure to the Ebola virus, though 8 to 10 days is most common.

For more information
Visit for updates about Ebola from Kaiser Permanente. For the latest information, including details about prevention and symptoms, please visit the CDC website.






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