Hospitals And The Ebola Outbreak

By Doug L. Smith

As the Ebola outbreak grows in West Africa and several infected patients arrive in the United States for treatment, hospitals across the country are preparing for possible cases of the deadly, incurable virus. Here is a little on how Intermountain Healthcare is preparing. 

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Ebola is a disease that kills about two-thirds of the people it infects by causing untreatable bleeding that can claim victims' lives in a matter of days or weeks. To date, the outbreak of the Ebola virus has infected more than 1,200 people in Africa, killing more than 900 of its victims.

Health officials last week announced that U.S. volunteer medical workers had contracted the disease. They will be at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia for treatment. At the hospital, each patient will be cared for by two specialists and two specially trained nurses wearing masks, hoods, gloves, and a specially developed shell to prevent them from being infected by bodily fluids.

U.S. hospitals, including those part of the Intermountain Healthcare system, are on alert for patients with Ebola symptoms such as fever, diarrhea, and red eyes—and a history of travel—as the deadly virus could only be an airplane ride away. Intermountain’s Infection Control Guidance Council, Infection Preventionists, and members of our Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Team are staying current with breaking news on this topic.

CDC says the virus poses little risk to the United States. Nonetheless, the agency has released guidelines on how hospitals should manage patients with Ebola. CDC recommends that clinicians entering a room with an Ebola-stricken patient wear:

  • Gloves;
  • Eye protection;
  • Fluid-resistant gowns;
  • Face masks; and
  • Shoe or leg covers.

It is also important for clinicians to obtain a travel history whenever patients present with infectious symptoms. 

Not every hospital is equipped with a special unit for Ebola patients like Emory University Hospital is, but nearly all U.S. hospitals can take care of an Ebola patient without creating a danger for staff or the public.