Missionaries Who Return To North Carolina Will Be Quarantined

Charlotte prepares to receive several missionaries back from Liberia who were there helping Ebola patients. Steve Inskeep talks to Dr. Megan Davies, the state epidemiologist of North Carolina

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene. Good morning. More American missionaries are turning home after caring for Ebola patients in West Africa. They will be quarantined.

INSKEEP: These missionaries worked for SIM USA, which is based in Charlotte, North Carolina. And we turn next to Dr. Megan Davies, who is North Carolina's state epidemiologist. Welcome to the program.

MEGAN DAVIES: Thank you.

INSKEEP: So could you just explain the mechanics of this first. Did the missionaries for example send word that they'd been working with Ebola patients and that they're coming home?

DAVIES: Oh, yes, absolutely. SIM USA contacted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and they additionally reached out to their local health department and the state health department, to coordinate for bringing home any of their missionaries who've been in effective areas, especially to make sure there was complete safety in bringing back anyone who might have worked with an Ebola patient.

INSKEEP: And we've heard from this, rather dramatically, from our colleague Jason Beaubien, who's been reporting on Ebola. I guess there's like a 21-day period where you really don't know if you have a problem. Is that right?

DAVIES: Typically if you're going to become ill with Ebola after being exposed the most common time (unintelligible) is eight to 10 days. But we stretch out the observation period to 21 days to capture that outside chance of becoming ill.

INSKEEP: Is anybody showing any symptoms so far as you know?

DAVIES: Nobody is symptomatic, that is returning. And SIM USA has been staying in contact with their people in country to assure their health and communicating back with public health officials. Actually CDC makes the decision about whether somebody can return by commercial aircraft or needs to be in a private conveyance. And they do that in consultation with whatever agency is bring the people home.

INSKEEP: OK, so you bring them home in the safest way you can. Then they land in North Carolina and what exactly will you do?

DAVIES: Well, our protocol that we've rehearsed and exercised in the past for communicable disease situations, is that a public health nurse goes to the airport, meets the plane, goes on board, interviews each person on board for symptoms, directly observes them to see that they do not appear ill and takes their temperature to make sure they don't have a fever because with Ebola, fever is the cardinal sign. So once the public health nurse is assured that they have not developed symptoms in route and they do not have a fever then they're cleared to come in and they go by private conveyance to secure location and when I say secure, I just mean a place where they can comfortably and safely remain quarantined for the remainder of the 21 day observation period.

INSKEEP: Should people worry? The public?

DAVIES: No, I don't think so. Not in the United States. We are in a very different social context than the outbreak in Africa and we have very different infection control procedures and a very organized public health system. So, this is not a highly contentious disease, it's not airborne. You can't get it through the (unintelligible) water, you have to be in direct contact with someone who who's actively sick to even risk being infected.

INSKEEP: Dr. Davies thanks much.

DAVIES: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's Dr. Megan Davies, North Carolina State epidemiologist.

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