Georgia monitoring 103 people who traveled to Ebola hot spots

State monitoring more than 100 from Ebola “hot zone”

More than 100 people who’ve arrived in Georgia from Ebola “hot zone” countries in West Africa are being monitored daily to see whether they develop symptoms of the deadly disease, state health officials said Friday.

The state monitoring, which began Oct. 27, requires people to self-report their body temperature and any symptoms twice a day, either over the phone or through a newly created web-based system. So far, no one has refused to participate. And no one has shown symptoms of the disease, state officials say.

When someone neglects to report, the state reaches out to them that day, said state Department of Public Health spokesman Ryan Deal – an assertion those under monitoring confirm.

“I forgot to report one time and immediately heard about it,” said Joe Merlino, a worker with the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He served as a logistics officer in Sierra Leone, though had no contact with infected people. “I got the email and a call from the epidemiologist. They’re not fooling around. You understand this is a legally binding agreement and you can be moved to a quarantine facility of the state’s choosing.”

Nationally, about 2,000 people coming from West Africa have been monitored since the observation program began in mid-October, according to the CDC. The CDC or U.S. Customs officials alert the state as each person comes through the airport. The person is monitored for 21 days, which is the incubation period during which people can develop Ebola symptoms.

Georgia has monitored a total of 170 people. The current number stands at 103, officials said.

In addition, Emory University Hospital has monitored the five physicians and 21 nurses who were involved in direct care of the four Ebola patients treated there.

“We feel this is another step we can take to protect Americans from Ebola,” said CDC spokesman Tom Skinner. “But it would be foolish to think we will catch every person and not see another case of Ebola in the U.S.”

On Friday, the Associated Press reported that a surgeon working in Sierra Leone has been diagnosed with Ebola and will be flown Saturday to the United States for treatment. Dr. Martin Salia, 44, a citizen of Sierra Leone who lives in Maryland and is a permanent U.S. resident, is paying for his own evacuation to Omaha to be treated at the Nebraska Medical Center.

He will be the 10th person with Ebola to be treated in the U.S. The last, Dr. Craig Spencer, was released from a New York hospital on Tuesday.

Also on Friday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution learned that Grady Memorial Hospital is creating an Ebola isolation unit. Hospital officials declined to release any further information.

The AJC reported earlier this month that Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta is constructing an Ebola isolation unit for kids at Egleston hospital. The state Ebola Task Force said a total of seven hospitals have stepped forward to create Ebola units, including Emory. The state has declined to identify the other hospitals.

Only one person is known to have died of Ebola in the United States, a citizen of Liberia who developed the disease after traveling to Texas. Friday, the CDC released a report saying that all the people known to have had contact with that patient, as well as all contacts of two nurses who contracted the disease from him, have finished their 21 days of observation. None developed Ebola.

Known contacts of the infected nurses included 76 passengers who flew on a commercial airliner one with one of them. The nurse caused a furor when the public learned that workers at the CDC who were monitoring her had cleared her to fly from Ohio to Dallas even after she began to run a fever. That nurse, Amber Vinson, was later treated successfully at Emory.

Georgia has been implementing several strategies to insulate the state from the disease, which has killed more than 5,000 people in West Africa. Travelers are screened at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, which has been designated as among five airports nationally that receive people from West Africa.

Under the plan announced by state health officials, people who had direct contact with a person suffering from Ebola can be quarantined, even if they don’t show symptoms. Travelers who had no known contact with Ebola patients will undergo the 21-day monitoring.

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Staff writer Richard Halicks contributed to this report.