Archive for Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Smallpox scare prompts quarantine at hospital

October 23, 2002

Two years ago, it's likely the 34-year-old male's chickenpox wouldn't have created a stir.

But for five hours Monday, his symptoms, which an emergency room physician said resembled smallpox, caused health officials to quarantine the emergency room at Leavenworth's St. John Hospital.

Allan Humpherys, administrator of Leavenworth County's health department, said at about 11:30 a.m. an inmate of the United States Penitentiary, Leavenworth, was brought to the hospital.

"During the evaluation, the physician saw some inconsistencies in how the patient presented symptoms," Humpherys said. "It made her wonder if there was a possibility about there being some other problem, something other than chickenpox."

Steps were taken to learn if the patient had chickenpox, or smallpox. The two diseases can have a similar appearance, Humpherys said.

"Typically, there's a little bit of difference," Humpherys said. "But in severe cases of chickenpox, it can look very similar to smallpox."

The only persons in the emergency room were the patient and the hospital staff. The quarantine began at about 12:30 p.m. and lasted until about 5:30 p.m., when a Kansas Department of Health and Environment lab confirmed a diagnosis of chickenpox, Humpherys said.

Meanwhile, concern spread when ambulance workers responded to a vehicle accident.

"Two of the police officers that were with EMS on the auto accident became concerned because they thought they might possibly be contaminated by the EMS personnel," Humpherys said. "So a small area of the justice center was shut down for a short time, until they determined there was not a risk there."

Cindy McGuire, marketing and volunteer services coordinator for St. John Hospital, said Tuesday the patient was in serious condition.

The precautions taken could serve as valuable lesson for the hospital staff, she said.

"It was a very good learning experience for us in case there ever was a disaster," McGuire said.

Humpherys, who has been administrator of the health department since Aug. 28, said the incident was a surprise, but the extra precautions were a good move.

"I think it was just more extra precautions because of the events last year and some of the things that are going on at the federal level," Humpherys said. "It was just prudent to isolate and investigate and find out exactly what the problem was."

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