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New Mexico official: Low risk of Ebola in state

October 22, 2014

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A top health official assured lawmakers Wednesday that New Mexico is prepared to deal with Ebola although it’s unlikely a case will happen in the state.

“The risk of a case of Ebola in New Mexico is very, very low,” said state infectious disease specialist Dr. Michael Landen, an epidemiologist with the Department of Health.

In testimony to the Legislative Health and Human Services Committee, Landen said the department is provided information on people coming to New Mexico from the West African nations of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea where Ebola has killed more than 4,500 people.

Under new federal requirements, air travelers from those countries must enter the United States through one of five airports that will perform screenings and fever checks for Ebola.

Landen said the department monitors those who come to the state from one of the countries. People who have been infected with the virus may not develop a fever and illness for up to 21 days.

He stressed that Ebola is transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids such as blood of those who are infected. The disease isn’t spread through sneezing or other airborne transmission.

Landen said the greatest threat to New Mexicans from an infectious disease is from pandemic influenza or a new virus that’s transmitted through the air.

Gov. Susana Martinez has directed the Health Department to coordinate with state and local government agencies and health care providers on a plan to ensure New Mexico is ready if a case of Ebola is diagnosed in the state. Landen said that plan would be posted online next week on the agency’s website.

The department has epidemiologists on call around the clock to answer questions from health care providers and provide guidance if a patient with Ebola symptoms seeks treatment.

He said the department’s lab will be able to perform testing for Ebola within two weeks. Currently, tests are done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or a Texas state lab.

Landen said a decision would be made during the testing on whether a patient, if Ebola is confirmed, should be sent out of state to a special containment facility, such as at the National Institutes of Health outside Washington, D.C.

He said it’s possible a suspected Ebola patient might be transferred earlier from a rural hospital to a larger New Mexico hospital or one of the containment facilities before there is lab confirmation of the disease if there’s “high risk exposure,” such as an individual having direct contact with the body of an Ebola patient.

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