In the past five months, Fayette County health officials have quarantined two patients who had traveled to or from Liberia after they showed symptoms similar to those of Ebola.
Ebola has ravaged Liberia, in West Africa, since March. Neither Kentucky patient had the virus, but the cases show that the system of detection, isolation and investigation in place in Kentucky worked as it should, said Dr. Rice Leach, Fayette County health commissioner.
In each Kentucky case a doctor, after questioning a patient about travel and symptoms, alerted infectious disease specialists at the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department.
The patients were then quarantined at University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Center. At the same time, public health workers started tracing the patient's steps to look for possible points of spreading the illness.
"We have practiced the public health response," Leach said. "We put them in isolation in the hospital until we could prove it was something else."
Leach said the health department went through the same process recently with another case involving a different disease. That case also proved to be a false alarm.
Leach said health departments across the state are on watch. (The state does not keep statistics on patient quarantines.)
In early August, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based in Atlanta, sent detailed information to hospitals and health care providers about the proper way to handle potential Ebola cases.
The same basic steps are practiced to contain any contagious disease, and most hospitals are equipped to create a safe environment, said Dr. Derek Forster, UKHealthcare's epidemiologist and medical director for infection prevention and control.
But as a precaution, UK has reviewed its policies to make sure they match the CDC's recommendations. For example, Forster said, it's been made clear to medical staff how specimens should be handled and who should be contacted if there is a suspected case of Ebola.
State health officials want people who have traveled to Liberia, Senegal, Sierra Leone or Nigeria and later feel sick with symptoms such as fever, vomiting or diarrhea to share that information with their doctor, said Dr. Kraig Humbaugh of the Kentucky Department for Public Health.
The doctor should get the information before the patient goes to an office, Humbaugh said, in case the doctor feels extra precautions should be taken.
The state is urging health care providers to ask patients about recent travel as part of every visit, Humbaugh said.
The state on Aug. 22 issued an advisory for health professionals outlining procedures for dealing with suspected or confirmed Ebola cases and urging the professionals to immediately inform state or local health authorities if they identify such cases.