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President`s Letter: Ebola in the United States - Do I Have Your Attention?

The latest concern to public health—the diagnosis of Ebola—is now within our borders and therefore an obvious concern to America's fire and emergency service.

I’m positive that by now as a fire service leader you've had many conversations, meetings, etc., with your department members, community leaders, public-health agencies and citizens. I'm also quite certain that the reactions of those you've met and talked with range from panicked to "What else is new?"

The media is using terms such as outbreak, crisis and epidemic in their nonstop coverage of this issue, and yet, as of this writing, there have been only three confirmed cases in the United States.

One troubling aspect is that the agencies responsible for monitoring, communicating and preventing threats to public health don’t appear to have a definitive direction or plan for addressing this issue. This may lead us to wonder how serious this is and how to adequately address it.

Without a doubt, Ebola is a very serious matter. It's a deadly virus with a 70% mortality rate and no cure. Thought not minimizing the potential threat of this illness, I believe some perspective is warranted. The truth is that we've been through this before and will again. In our industry, we've dealt with threats just as dangerous as Ebola, such as HIV, hepatitis, tuberculosis, various strains of the flu and more. We encounter these on a daily basis; Ebola is just the latest on an ever-increasing list.

Most of us have likely implemented safe work practices, employed the appropriate PPE and adhered to sound exposure-control protocols. It should be shared how Dallas Fire Department personnel avoided being infected and how our lessons learned can provide assistance and serve the larger healthcare-provider industry.

Perhaps the most serious threat we face is complacency. Having been through many public health scares that haven’t risen to the level of epidemic may lead us to not maintain the appropriate level of awareness, preparedness and readiness to protect ourselves from communicable diseases. The benefit we can derive from this threat is to reinforce our adherence to and enforcement of proven safe work practices.

The IAFC has created a task force to specifically address Ebola. Chaired by 2nd Vice President Chief John Sinclair and made up of representatives from the EMS and Safety Health and Survival Sections, the Hazmat and Emergency Management Committees and the IAFC staff, this task force is providing the latest and best information about the status of the disease and recommended protective measures.

G. Keith Bryant
President and Chairman of the Board

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