November 5, 2014
MDH monitoring 48 recently arrived travelers through new precautionary program
All travelers being monitored are in lowest-risk category; MDH to provide weekly program updates
The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) reported today that health officials are monitoring 48 travelers who recently arrived in Minnesota from Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea as part of the state’s precautionary traveler monitoring program announced last week. In addition to the 48 being actively monitored, the department is working to contact another 12 travelers to begin monitoring.
Under the provisions of the monitoring program, people arriving in Minnesota from the three Ebola-affected countries in West Africa will be monitored by state and local public health workers for 21 days for fever or other symptoms of possible Ebola infection. The incubation period of Ebola is from two to 21 days, so a person who does not develop symptoms within 21 days of potential exposure would not present a further risk.
The monitoring of these people does not indicate they have symptoms of Ebola. Rather, the program is designed to swiftly detect any potential symptoms should they develop. MDH would work with travelers to assess any health conditions that develop during monitoring, and help direct them to a facility prepared to handle such a condition. If a traveler developed symptoms consistent with Ebola infection, MDH would work with the individual to be evaluated and tested. If the results were positive for Ebola, the patient would be isolated and begin treatment.
“Our program balances protecting public health and respecting individual liberties,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Ed Ehlinger. “By monitoring recent travelers, we provide an additional measure of protection for the community and help any ill people get quick access to potentially life-saving treatment.”
Federal officials provide names and contact information for those who indicate their final destination is Minnesota after leaving Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea and arriving at one of the five designated receiving airports in the U.S. After receiving this information, public health workers contact individuals to explain the monitoring program and begin logging twice-daily information about body temperature and the presence or absence of other symptoms. During the initial contact, the travel and exposure history of each individual is verified to determine whether they present a low risk, some risk or high risk of exposure to Ebola. Those in the higher risk categories face a set of restrictions (for example, no use of public transportation) designed to minimize the potential of spreading the virus to others if they develop symptoms. Higher-risk individuals would also have direct monitoring activities including public health workers seeing the individual at least daily. All travelers contacted to date have been in the lowest risk category.
Starting next week, MDH will provide weekly updates on the number of people being monitored, and into which risk categories they fall. The reports will provide a total number of those being monitored during the preceding week (Monday to Sunday). To comply with laws regarding individuals’ health information and to reduce the risk of stigmatization MDH will provide only aggregate information. MDH would alert the public if anyone being monitored tested positive for Ebola or otherwise presented an imminent public health risk. To get an email update when reports are posted, go to www.health.state.mn.us\divs\idepc\diseases\vhf\monitoring.html and click on the red envelope.
More information can be found on the MDH website at www.health.state.mn.us. Information is also available by calling the MDH Ebola Information Line at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903.