New York Health Commissioner's Ebola Plan? Purell

New York Health Commissioner's Ebola Plan? Purell
Photo credit: johnwilliamsphd via Compfight cc

New York State's acting health commissioner has a couple easy tips for people afraid of Ebola: Clean your hands and get a flu shot.

"The symptoms of many viral illnesses, they always begin the same," said Dr. Howard Zucker, at a press conference convened today by Governor Andrew Cuomo to discuss how the state was dealing with Ebola.

Ebola, just like the flu, starts with a fever, sore throat, headache, and muscle weakness. If a patient came in to his office with those starting symptoms, Zucker said, "I would ask, 'Have you had the flu shot?' and if you say yes, I'd say, 'OK, you probably don't have the flu.' "

Governor Cuomo agreed. "The more anxious types will say, 'Maybe I have Ebola,' " he said. "I'm getting mine. I'm one of those more anxious types!"

Zucker also fielded a question about whether those fearing the virus should start using hand sanitizer. "Carry the Purell, yes. And wash your hands," he said.

While anyone who loves the fresh, clean scent of antimicrobial products will say "duh" and be impressed that Zucker answered the question without gagging, the data are a little more complicated. An Emory University study showed that stomach viruses are more readily eliminated by soap and water than by the gel.

In other words, wash your hands. Get your flu shot. Gosh, this isn't even an Ebola thing -- this is just New York.

The conference included more serious briefings on how, exactly, the city and state were gearing up to respond to any potential threat.   Eight hospitals in the state are going to be prepared to respond if an outbreak occurs, said Cuomo. "No New Yorker should be concerned if there is a case of the Ebola virus," he said. "We want caution, but we also want to keep perspective."

Four of the hospitals are located in New York City: Manhattan's Mount Sinai, New York Presbyterian, and Bellevue, as well as Montefiore in the Bronx. The others are North Shore/LIJ Health System in Nassau County, Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse, the University of Rochester Medical Center, and Stony Brook University Hospital.

Cuomo also thanked front-line workers like police, firefighters, and transit workers. "This is not in their job description," he said. "It's not what you sign up for when you become a transit worker. But everyone has responded admirably."

Admirably, indeed. Reps from the MTA and Port Authority revealed just how much they already put up with on a daily basis when they were asked how they planned to dispose of any infectious waste. "We don't have a problem with the disposal of infectious waste in the system," said MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast, with the air of a man who's seen things you don't ever want to see. "We do it on a daily basis."

Cuomo's words come at a tense time for many who do those risky jobs. About 200 airline cabin cleaners went on strike last week, saying their employer didn't give them enough protection from or training on infectious diseases.

Send news tips to ktoth@villagevoice.com Follow @kat_toth on Twitter


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