MUSC: Pilot with 'flu-like' symptoms is 'no risk' for Ebola

VIDEO: JBC Serviceman being screened for Ebola at MUSC
Statement released Friday by MUSC regarding possible Ebola patient.
Statement released Friday by MUSC regarding possible Ebola patient.

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A pilot with the 437th Airlift Wing who flew a mission to West Africa on Oct. 23 and began experiencing "flu-like symptoms" this week has been downgraded from being "low risk" to "no risk," according to MUSC. "In consultation with DHEC, CDC and the Department of Defense, it has been confirmed the patient had no contact with anyone in Liberia, and based on this information, he has been determined to have no risk for Ebola. The patient will be removed from Ebola precautions, and no quarantine will be required," MUSC spokesman Tony Ciuffo said.

The serviceman, who lives off-base, began experiencing the symptoms on Wednesday, and was transported to MUSC Friday morning after Joint Base Charleston coordinated with the state's Department of Health and Environmental Control to exercise "the appropriate protocols and an abundance of caution," according to Staff Sgt. Anthony Hyatt.

The patient recently returned from a three hour stay in Liberia during which time he did not leave the plane, according to Mark Plowden, Communications Director for DHEC. The hospital activated their Ebola protocols after it was contacted Thursday night by DHEC.

"Late yesterday evening, we got a patient who required an Ebola medical screening," MUSC spokesperson Heather Woolwine said.

MUSC brought the patient to the hospital using what they call an "isolation pod" to keep the risk of spreading any possible infection between the patient and attending medical staff to a minimum.

The patient had been treated using the rules set up by the Governor's Office, DHEC, and the Centers for Disease Control, MUSC said. He was treated on an isolated ward and anyone who treated him was required to wear protective gear.

The same precautions were taken at Clarendon Medical Center in Manning for a patient who complained of muscle pain, but tested negative for Ebola.

Other crew members who have traveled in the region are monitored for 21 days, and so far, only the pilot in question has shown any adverse symptoms," Hyatt said."The risk of Ebola is extremely low," said Plowden in a statement. "However, MUSC is following protective protocol as a precautionary measure."

According to MUSC spokesperson Sarah King, a MUSC medical team was dispatched to the patient's home, and transported the patient to MUSC Medical Center in an isolation pod. The patient was then placed in a specialized isolation unit to undergo Ebola medical screening.

"The patient remains in isolation and the initial assessment indicates the patient is unlikely to have Ebola," a statement from MUSC reads. "However, MUSC and DHEC will continue to monitor the patient closely in the isolation unit."

JBC: 'Many layers of separation' in place to protect crew members 

According to a fact sheet for Department of Defense families and deploying personnel, DoD personnel supporting Operation United Assistance who travel to and from an airfield of a country where an Ebola outbreak is occurring will not be held for controlled monitoring as long as they meet the following guidelines:

  • Do not come into contact with blood or body fluids of individuals in the affected country.
  • Do not participate in the medical transport or care of an individual suspected of having Ebola
  • Close contact is limited to airfield operations and DoD personnel being monitored daily for signs of Ebola

"The member in question met all of these criteria," Hyatt said.

The airport where the mission took place is being operated by U.S. personnel who have no contact with Ebola patients and American personnel on the ground also self-monitor for adverse symptoms twice daily, Hyatt said.

"Upon landing, the crew left their engines running and remained on the flight deck for the entirety of their three hours and nine minutes on the ground," Hyatt said. "In other words, there were many layers of separation put in place to protect transiting aircrew."

Hyatt also confirmed that no food from Liberia was served to crews while the plane was on the ground.

Officials planned to meet Friday morning to reassess the treatment and condition of the patient.

MUSC an 'Ebola-ready' hospital

In October, South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control Director Catherine Templeton announced MUSC volunteered to be an

, and that it was ready, willing, and able to treat Ebola patients if needed. MUSC is one of three hospitals in the state prepared to take on Ebola patients, and until Thursday night, their isolation wing had remained empty.

The DHEC director said doctors and nurses have been drilled on all protocols required to keep patients, themselves, and the community safe during a possible Ebola infection.

"When presented with someone who may have Ebola, someone who has non-specific symptoms and a fever and has traveled to West Africa, it is very simple. Isolate, identify, and communicate," Templeton said.

MUSC is stocked with equipment to aid in the possible treatment of Ebola patients, according to MUSC's Chief Quality Officer Dr. Danielle Scheurer.

"We are very prepared to screen, isolate and communicate at all ports of entry throughout MUSC Health, and we feel very confident we will be able to do that," said Sheurer during last months press conference. "We do feel confident that we can accept and safely care for any patient with a potential or suspected case of Ebola."Still, with all the preparation, the possibility that an Ebola patient might be receiving treatment inside the hospital was still unnerving for some. Samantha Markel brought her husband, who is working on site, lunch like she always does, but she said she didn't want to enter the building.

"Nobody has died from it, but you don't know how it could affect everybody. Like the flu and everything affects people differently," Markel said.

Just like the state she lives in, Markel said that until the patient was officially cleared, she was also practicing an "abundance of caution."

Experts: Ebola 'unlikely' to reach our area

Medical experts in South Carolina stress how unlikely it is the disease will reach our area. For starters, it has to pass through person-to-person contact because the virus is not airborne.

At Gov. Nikki Haley's panel on Ebola in October, experts pointed how medical teams will act so quickly in every case, it would be difficult for the disease to spread.

They also said that while Ebola was cause for caution, it was not cause for panic.

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