Top state health officials preparing for possibility of Ebola in California

Top state health officials on Wednesday said hospitals are continuing to prepare for possible cases of Ebola and that a diagnosis in California could happen.

However, there have been no suspected or confirmed cases of the deadly virus in California amid the worst Ebola outbreak in history.

“It would not be unexpected for California to eventually have a confirmed case of Ebola,” Dr. Gil Chavez, epidemiologist with the California Department of Public Health, said during a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon.

However, he added, health systems have appropriate protocols in place to prevent the spread of Ebola in the state.

San Francisco hospitals were among those to step up their training efforts this week to ensure health care workers are competent in handling a patient with the virus, which has a mortality rate of nearly 50 percent.

Ensuring all health care workers have personal protective equipment is among the California health department's top priorities, said Dr. Ron Chapman, state health officer and the department's director. Health officials said Ebola preparedness will be an ongoing conversation and emphasized that the two patients tested for Ebola in California since the outbreak began this year were negative.

“Ebola does not pose a significant public health risk to communities in California at the present time,” Chavez said.

While 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, California health officials are working alongside federal authorities to possibly screen travelers flying into international airports in the state as well.

“California is an important destination for many travelers,” Chavez said. “There are international airports in this state that have [the] potential [for] exposure.”

Wednesday's conference call followed reports that a second Dallas nurse contracted the disease from a patient and flew across the Midwest aboard an airliner the day before she began to have symptoms, even though government guidelines should have kept her off the plane.

The second nurse was identified as 29-year-old Amber Joy Vinson. Medical records provided to The Associated Press by the family of the first U.S. Ebola victim, Thomas Eric Duncan, showed that Vinson inserted catheters, drew blood and dealt with Duncan's bodily fluids.

Duncan, who was diagnosed with Ebola after coming to the U.S. from Liberia, died Oct. 8. 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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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