Infectious Disease Summit; Multiple agencies learn about Ebola from DPH and others

November 17, 2014

It was standing room only in the 500 seat auditorium at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center last week for a very timely held Infectious Disease Summit.  

Law enforcement, emergency medical services (EMS) specialists, firefighters and public health professionals from throughout Georgia began the summit with a presentation by Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) Director of Epidemiology, Cherie Drenzek, D.V.M., discussing global diseases and their potential local impacts.

While media reports last week declared the country to be “Ebola free,” the news came with advice for public health leaders to avoid complacency.  This note was strongly reiterated during Dr. Drenzek’s presentation that explained how global diseases are identified, tracked and combated.

“It’s a small world after all.  Emerging infectious diseases are only a plane, boat, ship or bus ride away,” said Drenzek.  “In this year alone, the world has shared infectious diseases such as Influenza A H7N9, Chikungunya, MERS and Ebola.”

Other important components to managing Ebola threats were discussed during the event such as quarantine and isolation.  Zain Farooqui, associate general counsel for DPH, along with Dawn Diedrich, Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) director of the Office of Privacy and Compliance, educated the audience about the legal implications of infectious disease containment and treatment measures.

“We want to make sure public health measures are as least restrictive as possible,” said Farooqui. “The goal is to ensure potential patients can be well cared for while also providing the best protection possible for the public.”

While the Ebola virus has grabbed worldwide attention, event speakers urged attendees to understand the coordinated efforts still underway to minimize risks of other public health threats such as the influenza virus.

“Between 3,000 and 49,000 people in the U.S. have died each year between 1976 and 2006 from influenza-related causes,” said Wendy Smith, DPH epidemiology preparedness director.

Smith also reminded attendees about the many diseases first responders may encounter in a variety of settings.  “Caution is always well-advised,” Smith said when recommending precautionary methods emergency service professionals should follow.

The summit also included a presentation by Byron Kennedy, chief of EMS for Atlanta Fire Rescue, which demonstrated the proper use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and highlighted why it is crucial to utilize these tools when caring for suspected or confirmed Ebola patients.

Alex Isakov, M.D., from the Emory University School of Medicine also joined the Infection Disease Summit to reiterate how the challenges of Ebola can be successfully managed with proper screening, training and treatment efforts.

“We know that the less symptomatic an Ebola patient is, the lower the risk of the virus spreading,” he said.  “Very important screening precautions are in place to help us quickly identify cases and take action when needed.”

Peki Prince, emergency preparedness coordinator for DPH’s Office of EMS and Trauma, commended the event’s participants for providing excellent educational and partnership opportunities for Georgia’s public health and first responders community.

"The Infectious Disease Summit was an amazing opportunity for leaders from multiple disciplines to learn from and interact with subject matter experts on infectious disease,” Prince said.  “Infectious disease is a societal issue. If we are to be effective in the mitigation of these diseases, public safety and health experts throughout Georgia must collaborate in this effort. I believe the summit’s focus on partnerships and community health is what made this event such as success.”

For more Ebola-related information and facts, visit www.dph.ga.gov/Ebola

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