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Cornell, local health agencies prepared for Ebola threat

Local health care agencies and stakeholders including Cornell have been planning for the unlikely event of a confirmed case of the Ebola virus in the Ithaca area, and they are prepared to respond.

“People are so confused by the scary media messages,” said Gannett Health Services Director Dr. Janet Corson-Rikert, associate vice president for campus health. “One of our challenges is how to put risk in perspective.”

While there have been no cases of Ebola in Tompkins County or New York state, a coalition of stakeholders has been working together since midsummer (when the first case was reported in the United States) on preparations to confront the disease and provide proper care.

Those involved include health care providers and first responders, the Tompkins County Health Department (TCHD) and Department of Emergency Response, Cayuga Medical Center (CMC), Gannett Health Services and Environmental Health and Safety at Cornell, Ithaca College’s Hammond Health Center, and Tompkins Cortland Community College Health Services.

“We want to assure our community that the risk for Ebola exposure is very unlikely in Tompkins County,” said Frank Kruppa, TCHD public health director, at an information session for media Oct. 21.

Cornell’s International Travel Advisory and Response Team enacted travel restrictions Oct. 16, barring all travel – for study abroad, research, teaching or any other official purpose – to West African nations under current U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) travel warnings for high risk (including Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone); and discouraging personal travel to or hosting visitors from those countries.

An email to the Cornell community about the restrictions stated that Ebola is rare outside of those countries, and public health officials are confident that infrastructures in the U.S. will limit the spread of the disease. Ebola cannot be transmitted by air or casual contact, and individuals not showing symptoms (such as diarrhea and vomiting) are not contagious. Transmission of the disease requires direct contact with a symptomatic infected person’s blood or bodily fluids.

Gannett Health Services will continue to update its detailed FAQ on Ebola to keep the Cornell community informed.

At the media event, health officials outlined some of their preparations, including a proactive screening process for potential Ebola patients, a recent drill for readiness at CMC, and setting protocols for hospital isolation areas and personal protective equipment for medical staff and first responders.

“We’ve also been in contact with the CDC and other hospital centers to decide on the best treatment,” said Dr. David Evelyn, CMC vice president of medical affairs.

The collaborative effort is a continuation of several years of experience in jointly handling a variety of public health and safety issues including infectious diseases, Kruppa said.

“We deal with communicable diseases on a regular basis,” he said, adding that county health officials would continue to monitor the threat of Ebola in West Africa and domestically.

They encouraged anyone who believes they have symptoms to contact their primary care physician (or, if on campus, to call Gannett at 607-255-5515).

Outreach efforts at Cornell to educate the campus community about Ebola have included an informal discussion with Corson-Rikert, Oct. 23 at 626 Thurston, the Cornell Center for Intercultural Dialogue. Alfonso Torres, professor and associate dean in the College of Veterinary Medicine, led a conversation on “an evolving mix of facts and fallacies” around the disease Oct. 22 at Hans Bethe House, where he is a fellow.

Media Contact

Joe Schwartz