No Ebola in Brooklyn, but cases of Enterovirus D68
Health officials worked to defuse panic and misperceptions about Ebola and Enterovirus D68 at a Borough Hall town hall in Brooklyn Wednesday night. The forum was sponsored by Borough President Eric Adams.
Despite the extremely low rate of Ebola in the U.S., “The rising level of stigma and discrimination is a key consideration,” said Dr. Karen Aletha Maybank, assistant commissioner of the NYC Department of Health (DOH). “We’re hearing about kids who aren’t going to school because they’re being bullied, and taxi drivers who are losing business because people won’t get into their cabs.”
The West African community is at the greatest risk, Maybank said. “People should not be afraid to seek care. No hospital should be asking about immigration status or ability to pay.”
There have as yet been no confirmed cases of Ebola in New York City, she said. “Out of 155 calls about suspected Ebola in New York City, zero tested positive.” Nonetheless, the city is training and will take steps to contain the disease if it does arrive, she said.
Update: On Thursday, a doctor who had been to West Africa was being tested for Ebola at Bellevue Hospital. Dr. Howard Zucker, Acting Commissioner, New York State Department of Health, said in a statement, “Preliminary test results are expected to be completed in the next 12 hours. It is important to remember that the symptoms exhibited by this patient can be indicative of other illnesses and that there is no confirmed case at this time.”
BP Eric Adams recalled a time when people with HIV were not allowed to fly on airplanes. “We have a responsibility to take away the hysteria.”
Dr. Ghassan Jamaleddine, chief medical officer at Kings County Medical Hospital, part of the city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC), said the hospital started preparing for Ebola even before patient Thomas Duncan showed symptoms in Texas.
“We educated the staff about screening, isolation and subsequent steps,” he said. “We’re training people on the front lines to protect themselves, take histories, and how to use personal protection equipment.
“We’ve had drills for six or seven weeks,” he said, adding that city hospitals have run simulation drills with “secret shoppers.” The city has also carried out drills “at all ports of entry.”
Not all HHC hospitals will be receiving Ebola patients. “In our system, Bellevue Hospital has been designated.”
Last week, eight hospitals across the state were chosen as Ebola first responders. Four of the hospitals are located in New York City. Besides Bellevue, these include Mt. Sinai and New York Presbyterian in Manhattan, and Montefiore in the Bronx.
HHC is also implementing a buddy system in which health care workers monitor another health care giver to ensure that a breach of protocol does not occur.
Dr. Eric Legome, chief of emergency medicine at Kings County, described multiple layers of protocol, which is still “evolving,” and noted that the disease only spreads when the sick person shows symptoms like fever, headache, vomiting and diarrhea.
Dr. Kenneth Bromberg, chief of pediatrics at Brooklyn Hospital Center (BHC), said patients in the U.S. may do better because of better fluid management in this country. “Hospitals in Brooklyn have experience managing fluid loss.”
Dr. Michael Hochberg, chief of emergency medicine at BHC, and Dr. Frank Proscia, president of the Doctors Council of SEIU, asked residents to get their flu shots, since symptoms of influenza can mimic those of Ebola and cause unnecessary panic in ERs.
“From what you read you might think it will be like the ‘Walking Dead’ tomorrow but that’s not reality,” said Dr. Hochberg. “In reality, influenza can be deadly and it affects more people – but we can treat that, we have vaccines.”
While there has been no Ebola detected, there have been several cases of Enterovirus, according to Hochberg. The virus, which is more serious for children, attacks the respiratory system.
“Seven out of eight kids tested positive for Enterovirus,” he said. “We’ve had kids wheezing who never wheezed before, and we assumed it’s Enterovirus.”
During the question and answer period, an audience member asked BP Adams why he and Mayor Bill de Blasio had remained silent about the closure and sale to a developer of Brooklyn’s Long Island College Hospital (LICH).
Adams said that as one of the judges on the LICH proposal evaluation panel, “I am not allowed to make any public statements.”
Other officials at the forum included Congresswoman Yvette Clark, City Councilmember Laurie Cumbo, and Sandra Chapman, chief program officer.