Archive for Wednesday, November 6, 2002

Emergencies not out of ordinary for new health department head

November 6, 2002

It was baptism by fire for the county's new health administrator.

On the morning of Oct. 14, Allan Humpherys found himself in charge of reacting to the county's first bioterrorism scare.

An inmate at the federal penitentiary had been taken to St. John Hospital. Although it was thought he had chickenpox, the severity of his symptoms led a physician to recommend precautions be taken in case he had smallpox.

Humpherys, who had only been on the job since Aug. 28, took action. The hospital emergency room was quarantined. A lab specimen was sent to Kansas Department of Health and Environment in Topeka. By about 5:30 that evening, the results were known the patient had chickenpox.

"It was a good sense of relief," Humpherys said. "We were very confident that it wasn't smallpox, but there's always that little uncertainty."

A diagnosis of smallpox would have set off mass vaccinations, Humpherys said.

"KDHE would have called federal agencies and the government would have started their response and we would have been looking for places to set up vaccination clinics," Humpherys said.

Health care workers, emergency workers, government official, law enforcement personnel and public works employees would have been the first to be vaccinated, he said.

Humpherys, who has for the past 23 years worked in the field of emergency medicine, said planning is an important step when reacting to a suspected bioterrorism incident.

"It's important to be calm, to really assess the situation before doing something," Humpherys said. "The main thing is to gather as much information as you can as quickly as possible."

And it's good to connect with the experts, said Humpherys, who believes that bioterrorism is a real threat.

"I had some real good backup support people I could call and get their advice Chuck Magaha, our communicable disease nurse and KDHE in Topeka," Humpherys said.

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