As U.S. officials continue to ramp up their response to history's worst outbreak of Ebola, Los Angeles County public health officials said Tuesday they have no doubt that they are ready to handle any potential cases.
"I have very high confidence that we are prepared to respond to a case of Ebola should it occur ... and that our collective efforts would prevent spread to others," said Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, the county's interim health officer.
Though the closest Ebola case is more than a thousand miles away in Texas, authorities across the U.S. aren't taking any chances and were advising health workers to ask for the travel history of anyone with a fever and immediately contact county health authorities if the person is determined to be at risk.
"We have the ability to rapidly diagnose a case of Ebola," Gunzenhauser said. "Our public health laboratory is one of 13 laboratories in the nation that is certified to do Ebola testing, and we can do that today if needed."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said it is confident that Ebola is transmitted principally by direct physical contact with an ill person or their bodily fluids.
"It's not as contagious as certain other diseases such as measles and influenza, and it's not spread through the airborne route that is popularized in movies," Gunzenhauser said.
County officials said that all public hospitals were prepared to treat a case and that the medical workers in those facilities have protective gear to keep them safe.
"The public health department also has the ability to rapidly identify patient contacts and monitor them in a way that prevents the spread to others," Gunzenhauser said.
So far, Los Angeles County officials have already dealt with seven cases that were initially deemed to be potential instances of Ebola.
"We immediately isolated the patient and used protective equipment," said Dr. Mitch Katz, the county's director of health services. "Fortunately, none of those seven people had Ebola."
County officials believe that the virus will eventually be contained in West Africa as health authorities impose tighter controls over movement for potentially infected people. They also noted that there are no direct flights from West Africa to Los Angeles.
But even if a case emerges here, they said, patients in the United States typically seek treatment much more quickly.
"When Liberia first started its epidemic in March of this year, they only had 51 physicians to serve the needs of over 4 million people," Gunzenhauser said. "We have over 25,000 licensed physicians, 95 acute care hospitals and a population that readily seeks their care when they are sick."
Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who requested Tuesday's briefing, praised the officials for their preparations. "You are a cut above," he said.