Boston health authorities unveil Ebola strategy

Dr. Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission
David L Ryan/Globe Staff
Dr. Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission

It’s extremely unlikely a patient with Ebola will show up in Boston. But if that were to happen, the city is ready to treat that patient and prevent the spread of the disease, according to hospital, city, and EMS officials who spoke at a press briefing Wednesday.

A patient suspected of having Ebola would be isolated in a hospital room and, even before the infection could be confirmed, health officials would start contacting people who might have been exposed.

Hospitals already have adequate supplies of personal protective equipment to keep the disease from being transmitted to medical workers, and they would activate existing plans for dealing with dangerous infectious diseases.


If disease investigators confirmed a case, the Public Health Commission would tell the public, providing minimal information about the patient to protect privacy.

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“The coordination among public health, hospital, and public safety in Boston has been a national model for a very long time, and these strong relationships will serve us well if a case of Ebola virus disease is discovered in the city,” said Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, which held the briefing.

Ferrer said she wanted to reassure the public and correct any misinformation as anxieties grow about the outbreak in West Africa, the worst in history, with nearly 2,500 cases resulting in more than 1,300 deaths.

Although deadly, Ebola does not spread through the air. It is transmitted only through direct contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids, and thus should be easy to contain in nations with advanced health care systems.

“We want to reassure folks that well before there’s any case in Boston, everybody’s been working together to make sure we have a plan in place,” Ferrer said.


The city’s health agency has sent guidance to hospitals, health centers, and colleges and universities, advising them on how to recognize and respond to a suspected case of Ebola, Ferrer said.

It has also reached out to provide information to West African communities in Boston, providing them with background on the illness, said S. Atyia Martin, director of the commission’s Office of Public Health Preparedness.

The commission has also been in touch with the Massachusetts Port Authority to ensure that “anyone coming into Boston with a suspect disease will be flagged,” said Dr. Anita Barry, director of the commission’s infectious disease bureau.

Dr. Paul Biddinger, chief of the Division of Emergency Preparedness and medical director of Emergency Department Operations at Massachusetts General Hospital, said the hospital has been planning since the 1980s to respond to dangerous diseases.

The West African outbreak has provided “a great chance for us to make sure that we look at all our plans again and make sure we are ready to respond and play a role in the city’s health system,” hesaid.

More coverage:


Digital health map tracks new Ebola cases in real time

Evan Horowitz: What are your chances of getting Ebola?

Few preparations in event of Ebola in US

Felice J. Freyer can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @felicejfreyer