The killer Ebola virus may be an African epidemic for now, but given our wealth of Christian missionaries and military personnel, is the Springs vulnerable to an outbreak?
Bill Letson, medical officer for El Paso County Public Health, says that while it's tempting to think of worst-case scenarios, Ebola "is still a relatively low risk."
And should it crop up, local and state health departments have done some preparation. After monitoring the Ebola outbreak, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued health alert advisories to the health departments on Aug. 1. Now passed on to local doctors, they explain what to look for (a recent trip to West Africa, for instance) and how to respond.
If an Ebola case is suspected, there are already practices and equipment in place to deal with it. Dan Weaver, spokesperson for University of Colorado Hospital, says that's because Ebola isn't treated much differently from other infectious diseases. UCH, he says, is aware of procedures to deal with Ebola, and has full protective gear and rooms with separate ventilation systems to ensure infectious viruses are contained.
Local organizations with people in Africa also say they are taking precautions. Fort Carson officials say their 10th Special Forces Group (airborne) is in West Africa, and the 10th Group recently assumed mission command of Special Operations Command Forward-West Africa, which focuses on training and operations aimed at counter-terrorism and opposing violent extremist groups.
As officials stated in an email, policy has the group limiting "service member travel to both known and potentially affected areas strictly to mission essential travel, as well as minimizing contact with at-risk or infected people." It goes on, "While none of our Soldiers are in areas currently affected by the outbreak, we are ensuring service members are trained on how Ebola is transmitted."
Local missionary organizations contacted by the Independent are deciding how to adjust their operations. In outbreak-plagued Guinea, the Springs-based Christian and Missionary Alliance has 12 workers, eight children and one apprentice, including some Americans. (None is from the Springs.) The Hope Clinic, a medical facility where some of the workers volunteered, was recently temporarily shuttered following an unconfirmed case of Ebola. The clinic planned to reopen Aug. 18, after working to meet the requirements of the World Health Organization for Ebola.
Alliance spokesperson Peter Burgo said last week the group has been told by the U.S. embassy that there's no need to pull out of Guinea now. The Alliance wants to stay to continue a health campaign it began in July to educate locals about Ebola.
The Springs-based Navigators organization has a couple of dozen Americans in Africa, though none are from the Springs and none are in the impacted areas. Spokesperson Gary Cantwell says if an outbreak spreads to the areas they are currently in — mostly Kenya and Senegal — the workers would likely be moved. For now, Navigators is continuing education efforts that incidentally could help contain the spread of the disease, such as teaching locals how to build sanitary latrines and hand-washing stations.
Springs-based Compassion International spokesperson Tim Glenn says his organization has hundreds of staff and volunteers in Togo, Ghana and Burkina Faso — countries that neighbor the outbreak — who are helping 124,000 children. All the workers are natives of Africa. Compassion's workers have been trying to provide a first line of defense for children and families by working with local ministers of health on a large-scale education campaign.
In the event of an outbreak, Compassion will have to consider freezing its operations because people will likely be safer in their homes than in group settings. Says Glenn, "We would take whatever steps are necessary to protect our kids."