Two weeks ago as cases of the coronavirus were making international headlines, Teton Valley Hospital received a call from a visitor who recently flew into Teton Valley via the Los Angeles International Airport. The patient wasn’t feeling well, had just spent eight hours next to people who were sick in a cramped airport and was having some trouble breathing.
Given the heightened awareness and growing concern from the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control, the traveler called Teton Valley Health and said they could be infected with the virus and didn’t know what to do.
“Luckily we were ready because we had been preparing for it,” said Nikki Ripplinger, Infection Preventionist for Teton Valley Health.
According to the CDC, the outbreak first started in Wuhan, China, but cases have been identified in a growing number of other international locations, including the United States. As of Jan. 21, there have been 11 confirmed cases in the US including Washington, California and Arizona with 82 cases still pending tests.
The Associated Press is reporting that the U.S. State Department is advising against all travel to China as the number of cases spiked more than tenfold in a week, including the highest death toll in a 24-hour period reported last week. The coronavirus has infected almost 10,000 people globally in just two months, a worrying sign of its spread that prompted the World Health Organization to declare the outbreak a global emergency.
The State Department’s travel advisory told Americans in China to consider departing using commercial means and requested that all non-essential U.S. government personnel defer travel in light of the virus. According to an Idaho Falls Post Register report last week, the travel advisory prompted Idaho Falls based company Melaleuca, which recently opened factories in China, to cancel China-based conventions and shutter stores in China until Feb. 12.
Locally, Ripplinger said the hospital would be screening anyone who has recently traveled from China. Additionally, the hospital has purchased personal protective equipment based on CDC recommendations. When the hospital received the call that a patient wanted to come in and thought they could be infected with the virus, medical staff were able to put their outbreak response into action.
Rippingler met the patient outside of the ER dressed in her best protective gear including eye protection and gloves. The patient was then moved to a “negative air pressure” room in the hospital. This room is equipped to filter the air in the room and push the used air out through an outside vent so that none of the contaminated air can circulate back into the hospital. An important feature given the virus’s high airborne infection rate.
Ripplinger said the hospital was in touch with the CDC and regional Public Health officials while the patient was at the hospital. These outside officials helped the local medical staff determine if the patient was presenting symptoms that could warrant further testing. Ultimately, the medical staff at the hospital determined that the patient did not need further testing for the coronavirus based on the symptoms they were presenting.
“It was a live trial run and the patient was so appreciative that we were ready,” Ripplinger.
While she agrees that the likely chances of a positive coronavirus case in Teton County, Idaho is low, it never hurts to be ready. She said that the flu and Respiratory Syncytial Virus or RSV is still the biggest threat to a person’s health right now.
She added that it is not too late to get that flu vaccine.