A Union College student athlete was quarantined Tuesday at Barbourville ARH Hospital with symptoms of a hemorrhagic fever.
Reports started early Tuesday alleging a Union College student had been diagnosed with a communicable disease, but initially very little information was available concerning the situation. Contact with Barbourville ARH Hospital and the Knox County Health Department didn’t provide immediate answers, and a statement from Union College initially denied the report. But, in a statement sent later Tuesday afternoon, Union College Senior Director of Communications Maisie Nelson said, “Union College was notified by officials at Barbourville ARH that a student is currently in the emergency room under quarantine. An airborne illness has been ruled out by officials. That is all the information we have been given at this time, we will update you as we learn more.”
After the Union College statement, a statement was released by Appalachian Regional Healthcare’s Melissa Cornett saying, “ARH can confirm that the Kentucky Department for Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are investigating a possible infectious disease currently being treated at Barbourville ARH Hospital. Contrary to rumor, Barbourville ARH is open and seeing patients as normal. We cannot comment on specific patient cases due to patient confidentiality. Barbourville ARH is working closely with the state health department and the CDC to follow all proper recommendations and current guidelines to ensure our patients receive the best of care, and others within our hospital remain safe.”
In a telephone interview with Brian O’Brien of The Big One 106.3FM WRIL radio, Barbourville ARH Emergency Medicine physician Dr. Joshua Kadetz, who says he worked a 2014 Ebola response for the Centers for Disease Control treating Ebola patients, had more to say about the situation at Barbourville ARH.
“We do have a young male, can’t release his name, he is in quarantine here with a potential hemorrhagic fever,” Kadetz confirmed.
When asked how the student became infected, he explained “Through history obtained, he didn’t go out of the country, but he had relatives that visited from West Africa approximately three weeks ago with a potential exposure.”
As for the potential of more individuals having been exposed, Kadetz replied, “No, we are confident that this is only transmitted by blood products or bodily secretions and is not airborne. So, no patient that was seen here at Barbourville ARH is at risk. Some employees did come in contact and we’re monitoring them closely, and everyone is presently healthy right now. The patient will probably be transferred down to Atlanta, Georgia.”
According to Kadetz, the infected male was contained to a negative pressure room for the purpose of quarantine.
In a statement from the Kentucky Department for Public Health, officials stated “We want to assure Kentuckians we are aware of a potential infectious disease and are working collaboratively with the local hospital as well as local, regional, and federal public health authorities to determine not only a possible cause of illness, but any steps that need to be taken to protect the health and wellbeing of our Commonwealth,” said DPH Commissioner Dr. Angela Dearinger. “We do not believe the wider community to be at-risk and appropriate protocols were followed at the hospital to prevent exposure to other patients.”
The statement went on to say “Any threat to the general public is being assessed, but is believed to be extremely low. Additional information will be shared as details are confirmed. At this time, a diagnosis has not been made as health officials work to complete necessary medical and laboratory testing outlined by infectious disease protocols.”
Another statement released later Tuesday by Dr. Hawkins read in part, “I have been notified by the Health Department that one of our Union College students is currently in isolation at ARH. We have been informed that there is no immediate risk to the public. However, we will take every precaution to ensure the safety of our campus community. We have not been told the identity of the student.” She went on to say, “Our student is undergoing tests to identify a virus. So far, we know that the student did not contract the Ebola virus, as has been speculated by posts on Facebook, and that it is not airborne. Also, I’ve been told that the student did not travel out of the country during the break.”
Kadetz confirmed following his interview that the virus has not yet been identified, and the hospital would be sending bloodwork by a special hazmat carrier to be tested by the CDC in Atlanta.
Barbourville ARH Hospital reported that its facility was open, including the Emergency Room, as the patient had been quarantined.
The Kentucky Department for Public Health added, “Anyone experiencing signs or symptoms of a viral illness, including fever, nausea, body aches, or lethargy, is encouraged to seek health care immediately.”
Correspondence with the CDC was not returned as of press time Wednesday.