COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - Local healthcare officials say they are now taking extra steps when it comes to seeing patients with flu-like symptoms.
Nursing programs in the Chattahoochee Valley are also preparing their students to take on any infectious virus with the national hysteria over Ebola in recent weeks.
The nursing directors at Columbus Technical College and Columbus State University both say they are talking more about the Ebola virus to help their students overcome their fears.
"One of the important areas that we do train in is infection control," Dr. Cheryl Smith, the director of CSU school of nursing said. "From the very moment they come into the program, they are taught about infection control when caring for any type of patient."
Smith said the nursing students talk about Ebola nowadays, and she encourages them to ask questions.
"Even though we have no reason to really worry about having an Ebola patient in the Columbus-Phenix City area, we are expected to know the answers to the questions the Public has about this disease," Smith said. "We make sure we share all the up-to-date information with our students."
Smith will also hold a faculty meeting Friday to discuss bringing new lessons into their nursing curriculum to help their student understand Ebola.
"We received some information from Georgia Board of Nursing from the Georgia Board of Health talking about what Ebola is, what the symptoms are, what the protocols for treatment are, and what we need to be concerned about," Smith added. "We encourage our students to ask questions like where the patients might have traveled overseas, if they have been to countries where Ebola is present."
Smith explained the nursing program also teaches students to properly put on protective gears and suits to protect themselves from any disease patients may carry.
Columbus Health Department officials also explained they now require their healthcare employees to ask additional questions when they see patients with flu-like symptoms.
"We want everyone to know at this point, we have no known cases of Ebola in our community," explained Dr. Beverley Townsend, the District Health Director with the Health Department. "But we are still following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Department of Health's guidelines to make sure we do diligence and we are ready for anything."
"The flu season is just around the corner, and Ebola symptoms mimic and mirror many of the symptoms we see in the flu," added Darrell Enfinger, District 7 Emergency Preparedness Coordinator. "So we do a good question and answer session for our patients and to find out their travel history. We look into where the patients have been within the last 21 days, whether their family members have been somewhere overseas the last 21 days. We just have to be more prudent about the questions we ask now."
"We encourage everyone to wash their hands with soap and water," Townsend said. "Washing your hands is important. We also encourage people to get their flu shots to prevent themselves from conditions that can be prevented by immunization."
Townsend also explained there is no cure but there are ways to treat the symptoms for the Ebola patients.
District epidemiologist Eileen Usman also said healthcare officials at the Health Department are fully prepared to help all patients.
"For years and years, we train our workers to put on personal protective equipment and how to properly remove that equipment based on current and updated guidelines," Usman said. "Every healthcare officials and nurses go through basic training about infectious disease and how to protect themselves, how to protect their families and the community at large. People are always scared, and they are scared now since many do not know what Ebola is. There's no reason for any nurse not to be prepared with the information to offer to our patients."
Mark Thorne, Dean of the Health Sciences and Nursing division at Columbus Technical College, said the school is also talking more about Ebola to help their students understand the disease.
"We want to prepare our students for what they may hear about and help calm some of the uneasiness that is out there about Ebola," Thorne explained. "The same protocols and the training we have here for our students currently will also be the same types of protocols that we have for Ebola and the universal precaution for any infectious disease."
Regardless of fear and confusion regarding Ebola, Thorne says this has not stopped students from applying to the nursing program.
"At this point in time, the Ebola issue has not affected out students in our health program," Thorne said. "We still get the same number of applications to our program and the training they receive. Our students are very passionate about the program, and they know Columbus Tech has an excellent program. Our students pass State Board at 97 percent, and there's a high 90 percent job placement after they graduate with their degree."
Smith also said Columbus State University's nursing program continues to accept high number of applications as well.
"It's still very competitive and we turn away about 50 to 100 students every year,"Smith said. "I don't feel like the Ebola concern is something that will decrease the demand."
Kristen Lowe, 22, is a nursing student at CSU and said the Ebola issue has not hindered her passion in becoming a nurse. On the contrary, Lowe said diseases like Ebola motivate and spark other nursing students' passions to become dependable nurses.
"Your initial reaction is fear just like everyone else's," Lowe said. "But you think more about caring for the sick, whether they are down with a cold or with Ebola. We are trained to follow precautions and to do what we can to save the patients. I can't wait to graduate and serve the community as a nurse."