One of the sobering lessons of the 21st century is how easily - in our highly mobile society - someone can contract an illness in one part of the world and turn up at a hospital's emergency room anywhere else in the world within 24 to 48 hours.
With modern air travel, vast oceans and great distances are no longer a serious impediment to the spread of exotic diseases, nor can airport screening reliably detect them when they arrive (see EID Journal: Evaluating Border Entry Screening for Infectious Diseases in Humans).
Over the past few years we've seen Ebola cases turn up in Dallas, Texas and New York City, MERS showing up in Indiana and Florida, Lassa Fever in Minnesota and New Jersey, and both H5N1 and H7N9 avian flu in Canada.
Far more common are infectious diseases like Dengue, Chikungunya, Zika, Measles, Malaria, avian influenza, and seasonal influenza . . . .
Currently the Bahamian MOH is investigating a traveler who died Sunday of an unknown illness. Media reports describe a 51 year old woman who checked into a Nassau hospital on March 15th, after returning from South Africa two weeks earlier.
Despite the media speculation this might be Ebola, South Africa hasn't reported a case in nearly 20 years, making that very unlikely. Still, tests are being run by our own CDC for Ebola, and other potential viruses.
First the statement from the Bahamian Ministry of Health, then I'll have a bit more.
Ministry of Health Press Release - Ebola Remains Unlikely
Authored by: Ministry of Health Source: Ministry of Health Date: March 28, 2016
The Ministry of Health and its agencies including the Public Hospitals Authority, Department of Public Health and the Pan American Health Organization in an update this morning maintains that a suspected case of Ebola at the Princess Margret Hospital is unlikely.
A meeting was held this morning with senior Health Officials led by the Minister of Health, Dr. the Honorable M. Perry Gomez, and including Dr. Kathleen Israel, Pan American Health Organization representative along with the PAHO Washington DC team at which it was confirmed that conclusive testing is being facilitated for a number infectious diseases including Ebola through the Centers of Disease Control in the United States of America.
The patient who passed away on Sunday evening had travelled to Johannesburg South Africa in early March. According to the World Health Organization, South Africa to date has had no reported cases of Ebola.
The Ministry of Health can confirm that all standard protocols including necessary protective measures in keeping with international guidelines have been followed in the management of the patient at the Princess Margaret Hospital.
The Ministry of Health will continue to work closely with PAHO and other international partners to ensure that effective measures are followed to safeguard the health of the public in accordance with international best practice.
Last summer, in TFAH Issue Brief: Preparing The United States For MERS-CoV & Other Emerging Infections, we looked at an issue brief prepared by TFAH (Trust for America’s Health) along with UPMC Center for Health Security and the IDSA (Infectious Disease Society of America) on the actions the United States needs to take to prepare for the arrival of MERS and other emerging infections.
A couple of weeks later, we saw the HHS Launch A National Ebola Training & Education Center to help prepare medical facilities to deal with Ebola, along with other highly pathogenic viral diseases.
Luckily, imported cases of Ebola, MERS, and avian flu are still rare events.
Still, every health care facility – large and small - needs to plan, train and equip themselves for the possibility that the next patient that comes through the ER entrance could be carrying something considerably more exotic than seasonal flu.
Because, as we saw when MERS raced through multiple hospitals in Korea last summer, the cost of not being ready can be unacceptably steep.