California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Director and State Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Smith today announced it is no longer necessary for CDPH to monitor travelers returning from Ebola-affected countries in West Africa for symptoms of Ebola virus disease (EVD).
The end of CDPH’s Ebola Monitoring Program comes as the World Health Organization (WHO) declares Guinea free of EVD. CDPH stopped monitoring travelers from Liberia on Sept. 3, 2015 and those from Sierra Leon on Nov. 7, 2015, following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and after WHO declared those countries free of EVD.
“As the Ebola outbreak comes to an end, the continued focus on traveler health is extremely important,” Dr. Smith said. “Health care providers need to rapidly identify travel-related risks in people who may have infectious diseases to prevent the spread of diseases and provide the best care possible. We live in a world where the introduction of a new and highly infectious disease to California could be just a plane ride away,” Dr. Smith said. “California’s response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has proven that the Department and its public health partners are prepared to respond to potential outbreaks of other infectious diseases that may be imported from other countries.”
Since CDPH and local health departments (LHDs) began monitoring travelers returning from the Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea on Oct. 12, 2014, nearly 1,300 travelers have been monitored. With the three West African nations free of EVD, daily monitoring of returning travelers will no longer be required due to the low possibility of transmission of the disease into the United States.
The West Africa Ebola outbreak started December 2013 and infected 28,640 people, of which 11,315 died. It has been the largest Ebola outbreak in history. The monitoring of returning travelers from Ebola-affected nations in West Africa has protected California from Ebola virus transmission. Besides monitoring travelers, CDPH collaborated with local health departments, emergency medical services, and the healthcare community to ensure that EMS personnel, physicians, and hospitals in California were ready to safely transport and care for potential EVD patients. No cases of EVD were identified in California during this outbreak.
“Monitoring travelers from the affected countries was a monumental task that proved very successful,” Dr. Smith said. “The CDPH Ebola Returning Traveler Epidemiology Team, along with the staff at local health departments throughout California, has worked hard to monitor all returning travelers on a daily basis for up to 21 days. The collaboration between CDPH and the local health departments is what made the traveler monitoring system work so well.”
In addition, CDPH and LHD staff have worked closely with health care facility staff and emergency medical services personnel to create a network that is prepared to safely transport and care for persons with EVD or other diseases that have the potential to spread in health care facilities, Dr. Smith said.