Rutland Man Quarantined for Ebola

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By Isabelle Dietz

This past week Vermont began its first Ebola quarantine when Rutland resident Peter James Italia was placed into a 21-day quarantine. Italia was and still is completely symptom-free, but nonetheless has agreed to remain in quarantine and to cooperate with health officials. Governor Peter Shumlin did not originally release Italia’s name or location, but Italia later self-identified on his Facebook page.

“This individual was in Guinea and Sierra Leone with the stated intention of investigating the Ebola epidemic in those two countries,” Shumlin said at a news conference.  However, as far as government officials can tell, the man had no known contact with Ebola patients during his month of traveling. Unfortunately, Italia was not affiliated with any government, health or relief organization that can verify his location.

“Do you believe him?” asked Steph Machado, Local 22 and Local 44 reporter, at the news conference.

“It’s not my job to speculate on what he said, what he did, or where he went,” Shumlin said. “I will not know the answer to that. None of us probably will.”

When Italia flew back into the US last Monday through the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, N.Y., he was screened upon arrival. He did not display symptoms of Ebola and was then released.

A Vermont law enforcement member and a public health worker then met him at the airport and drove him back into the state.

“This individual does not have an elevated temperature, has no signs or symptoms of illness and is not a health risk to anyone at this time,” Shumlin said.

The state is keeping him in a private residence in a rural area, and public health nurses from Vermont visit him twice a day to check his condition. Before visiting, the nurses have Italia check his own temperature to make sure he has not developed a fever.

Italia traveled to West Africa to offer his medical services to combat Ebola. They were declined.

“He’s represented himself in public statements as a physician, but he’s not a licensed doctor or health care professional here in the state of Vermont,” Shumlin said. Italia told the Burlington Free Press that he graduated from a medical school in the Dominican Republic, but is not yet licensed in Vermont.

Italia also told the Burlington Free Press that he has no plans to violate the quarantine, and that he has signed a state document in “agreement to voluntarily comply with quarantine.”

Should Italia develop symptoms, Vermont authorities are prepared. Fletcher Allen (Vermont’s largest hospital) began preparations for Ebola in early October, training 200 members of their staff and making sure they had the right materials in case they did receive an infected patient. Three rooms in Fletcher Allen’s medical intensive care unit have been readied for the care of an Ebola patient, should one come to Vermont.

The Burlington International Airport, Burlington Fire Department and the Williston Fire Department have also taken measures to educate themselves about Ebola.

The Ebola virus, also known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, is a severe, often fatal illness. The incubation period for the disease is usually between two and 21 days. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, vomiting, diarrhea, chest pain, rash and impaired kidney and liver function. The average Ebola case fatality rate is around 50 percent, though case fatality rates have varied from 25 percent to 90 percent in past outbreaks. So far there is no proven treatment available for Ebola or any licensed vaccines.

WHO, the World Health Organization, has released a lot of information on Ebola since the recent outbreak this fall. Their fact sheet on the illness explains the seriousness of the situation.

“The current outbreak in west Africa, (first cases notified in March 2014), is the largest and most complex Ebola outbreak since the Ebola virus was first discovered in 1976. There have been more cases and deaths in this outbreak than all others combined. It has also spread between countries starting in Guinea then spreading across land borders to Sierra Leone and Liberia, by air (1 traveller only) to Nigeria, and by land (1 traveller) to Senegal.”

WHO also explains that humans are not infectious until they develop symptoms, which Italia has not.

This fall, a hospital in Dallas mistakenly sent home an Ebola patient who was showing some symptoms on Sept. 26, and the mistake was not corrected until Sept. 28. Now hospitals and health care officials are taking extra care with patients they believe might be at risk for developing the illness.

However, health officials are discouraging Vermonters from panicking. Italia has shown no symptoms, and Ebola is not an airborne disease. It is spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of a person infected with the disease.