Suburban hospitals play it safe with Ebola; one patient put into isolation

All it takes is for someone to complain of flu-like symptoms and say they’ve recently traveled to or from Africa for suburban hospitals to check for the Ebola virus.


A patient was placed in isolation at Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin while he was being assessed for the Ebola virus — which eventually was ruled out, hospital officials confirmed Monday.

The only thing required to trigger such an assessment is a patient reporting flu-like symptoms and having recently traveled to Africa, said Tonya Lucchetti-Hudson, Sherman’s director of public affairs and marketing. The patient came to the emergency room Thursday evening under those circumstances.

Following procedures set by the Centers for Disease an Control to rule out Ebola, the patient was put in isolation while examining staff members wore protective gear, she said.

However, after consulting with the Kane County Health Department and the Illinois Department of Public Health, it was determined testing for Ebola was not warranted, she said.

The patient was treated for his symptoms and released Friday, Lucchetti-Hudson said. She declined to give more details, citing privacy laws.

“We knew from the start that the likelihood that patient would have Ebola was very, very slim, but we still have to enact all those protocols,” she said.

A similar situation took place last week at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, when a patient came to the ER on Oct. 5 with flu-like symptoms and reported recently having traveled to Africa.

Vincent Pierri, manager of public affairs for Advocate Health Care, said that “out of an abundance of caution,” the hospital staff notified the CDC, as well as the Cook County health officials.

The patient was placed in isolation, but it was later confirmed the patient did not travel to Africa and there were no indications of an Ebola infection, he said.

Further complicating matters at Sherman was an Internet post about a patient being held in isolation while waiting for Ebola testing results. It appeared on the website abovetopsecret.com on Friday.

“It’s just unfortunate, because people are already afraid of these types of things, and to post something not credible out there is not good,” said Lucchetti-Hudson, adding the hospital is investigating how that might have happened.

Because of the low threshold for assessing for Ebola, she said, “there are thousands of false alarms across the country right now. Everybody is doing their due level of diligence.”

Other hospitals contacted by the Daily Herald Monday did not report needing to screen for Ebola. But they have been preparing for it.

“The outbreak in Africa started back in March,” said Brigette Bucholz, manager for infection prevention at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights. “This is something that infection preventions have seen potentially coming down the pipeline for some time.”

Local county health departments, along with the state’s health department and the CDC, have provided a steady stream of information about the virus, she said.

“There’s an algorithm for evaluating cases and whether or not the person meets the criteria,” Bucholz said, including symptoms, travel and potential exposure to the virus.

Past Ebola outbreaks — which date back to 1976 — were contained because they took place in rural areas, but the current outbreak has affected urban centers in Africa, which has contributed to the spread of the disease, she said.

“Staff are definitely concerned,” Bucholz said. “This is certainly not a ‘business as usual’ type of illness, and with that, there’s a lot of ‘wait and see.'”

Mary Anderson, infection control manager for Edward Hospital & Health Services in Naperville, said an Ebola-specific emergency preparedness plan was created early last month.

The hospital already had added a travel question to its electronic intake this summer because of concerns about Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (MERS) spreading in the Arabian peninsula.

“(MERS) is not as prevalent and not as high on the radar right now as is Ebola, but there is always something going on in the world,” she said. “If it’s not Ebola and MERS, then it’s avian influenza or whatever else is going down the pike.”