SF training 911 dispatchers to handle potential Ebola symptoms

Mike Koozmin/s.f. examiner file photoThe City’s Department of Emergency Management has issued new screening protocols for 911 dispatchers to help ensure first responders are informed of any potential Ebola symptoms.

Dispatchers in San Francisco have been instructed to ask 911 callers who describe possible Ebola symptoms a specific set of questions to ensure first responders take proper precautions.

The new protocol went into effect Thursday.

The City's Department of Emergency Management issued the new Ebola-specific screening protocols for 911 dispatchers to help ensure first responders are informed of any potential Ebola symptoms, and can take steps to wear appropriate personal protective gear if needed.

If dispatchers suspect somebody is symptomatic of the virus, the caller will be asked a series of questions, such as whether the caller has traveled recently, visited the West African countries affected by the virus, and which specific symptoms the caller is exhibiting, said Francis Zamora, a Department of Emergency Management spokesman.

“This way they get the information, [and] they can pass along to first responders so they know they are coming into a situation of somebody who is possibly symptomatic,” Zamora said.

The move is the latest in The City's efforts to step up preparedness against the deadly disease following a second diagnosis of a nurse in the U.S. this week, though there have been no suspected or confirmed cases of Ebola in San Francisco.

Dr. Tomas Aragon, The City's health officer, emphasized that health care systems are making efforts throughout San Francisco and nationwide to prepare for the possibility of Ebola.

“All the hospitals, all the emergency management systems, all the public health systems – everybody is working on this,” Aragon said.

Should a suspected case of Ebola occur in San Francisco, health officials say there are systems in place to ensure a quick response from city agencies and the medical community.

Health care workers are being trained to identify whether a patient may be at risk for having Ebola, and protocols implemented for where the patient would be placed, Aragon explained. Health systems are also identifying the next steps, such as testing the patient's blood and alerting the health department.

On Wednesday, California's top health officials said they are working alongside federal authorities to possibly screen travelers flying into international airports in the state. Five airports in the U.S. — none in California — that see up to 95 percent of travelers from the West African countries affected by Ebola are implementing extra screening.

As of Wednesday, there have been more than 4,400 deaths from Ebola in West Africa, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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