Fever screenings to begin at O'Hare Thursday

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The head of Chicago's Department of Public Health talked about city preparations to handle any potential Ebola cases here as fever screenings are set to begin at O'Hare International Airport on Thursday.

READ: More information from the CDC on Ebola

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Julie Morita emphasized that there are no confirmed cases of Ebola in the Chicago area, but says her agency has been working closely with area hospitals to make sure they're ready in case that happens.

Dr. Morita has been consulting with aviation officials at O'Hare as the airport will implement procedures on Thursday to screen all arriving passengers originating from West Africa for fever.

Starting Thursday, passengers at O'Hare originating from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone will be screened for fever and asked whether they've been near anyone sick.

"Anybody who has illness or symptoms that could be consistent with Ebola is likely to be evaluated at a health care facility in Chicago," said Dr. Julie Morita, Chicago Dept. of Public Health.

Presence Resurrection Medical Center - only five miles from O'Hare - already has an arrangement with O'Hare to screen passengers for other contagious diseases, like malaria and SARS.

If an Ebola diagnosis is made, Dr. Morita says that patient could be treated in isolation at any number of Chicago hospitals, but she says no facility has been designated as the place where a patient would be treated.

At Resurrection, the passenger would be isolated, say officials, and if the patient is diagnosed with Ebola, Dr. Morita says: "It's possible they would stay at Resurrection Hospital. We're also exploring other options within the city, but we haven't finalized anything at this point."

"We'll start with a system that certainly isn't perfect but if there's a sense that this disease is coming to the U.S. in a bigger way, we'll sort of have the mechanism set up to really up the screening," said Prof. Joseph Schwieterman, an aviation expert at DePaul University.

Only four hospitals in the U.S. have staff with extensive training in treating Ebola patients. None are in Chicago. But officials say, for weeks, they've been consulting with Chicago hospitals on best practices.

"We are learning from the experiences in Texas that more training and handling of personal protective equipment is necessary," said Dr. Richard Novak, University of Illinois Hospital.

This activity comes as a Frontier plane is identified as the one that carried the second U.S. Ebola patient. The flight originated in Chicago, but she boarded in Cleveland heading to Dallas. The flight was expected to return to service Wednesday night after two disinfectant cleanings, but was again grounded in Cleveland and its Atlanta-bound flight cancelled.

While the CDC thinks is unlikely anyone was infected during the flight to Dallas, the agency is reaching out to all passengers. Those who were on Flight 1143 on Oct. 13 are asking to call the CDC at 800-232-4636 (1-800-CDC-INFO).

Chicago's Department of Public Health is also training 911 dispatchers and first responders to ask about sick patients' travel history.

The Illinois Department of Public Health announced Wednesday its setting up an Ebola hotline to answer questions from the public. Officials hope to have that hotline set up by the end of the week.

Ebola fears spreading faster than virus itself

Despite assurances by health officials and experts that the number of Ebola cases in the U.S. should be limited, many Americans are worried about a potential outbreak.

As Chicago area hospitals gear up for the possibility of Ebola, the fear of getting the virus is spreading much faster than Ebola itself.

That concern is contributing toward what economist Diane Swonk calls a "tsunami of fear" that has sent the stock market plummeting.

"All this fear takes a while to play out, until we get some type of certainty, which doesn't look likely in the near future, it's going to be really choppy, so buckle your seat belts," said Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial.

The good news is the fear has not reached the point where people are staying home, refusing to fly or shop.

While health care workers are likely the most anxious at this point, chairman of Rush University's psychology department Dr. Stevan Hobfoll says anxiety over Ebola all depends on how the media handles it, how quickly the government educates the public and how much people read accurate information.

"I think what is important for people to think about is that every day that goes on, we are better at being prepared to handle it," said Dr. Stevan Hobfoll.

So far, only three people in the United States have been diagnosed with Ebola.
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