Magazine article USA TODAY

U.S. Ready for Ebola-10 Patients at a Time

Magazine article USA TODAY

U.S. Ready for Ebola-10 Patients at a Time

Article excerpt

Have you wondered why Ebola patients are being sent to Omaha, Neb.? "It is because one physician, Dr. Philip Smith, had the foresight to set up the Nebraska Biocontainment Patient Care Unit after the 9/11 attacks as a bulwark against bioterrorism," says Jane M. Orient, executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons and president of Doctors for Disaster Preparedness, Tucson, Ariz. "Empty for more than a decade, used only for drills, it was called 'Maurer's Folly,' for Harold Maurer, former chancellor of the University of Nebraska Medical Center."

The unit has a special air handling system to keep germs from escaping from patient rooms, and a steam sterilizer for scrubs and equipment, explains Orient. It could handle, at most, 10 patients at a time, but one or two would be more comfortable, owing to the large volume of infectious waste. It is the largest of only four such units in the U.S., and the only one designated for the general public. Some say this is overkill--that our medical workers can be kept safe with much less stringent precautions. Ebola is "hard to get." It is being compared to AIDS, which has not proved to be a significant threat to medical workers, not even surgeons.

"The Ebola outbreak is presenting some of the same challenges we saw with HIV," writes Cheryl Clark for HealthLeaders Media, such as "tear of contagion. In many ways, the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s was the best thing to happen to health care. For one thing, it brought 'universal precautions."'

Orient further points out that Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Ga., also likens Ebola to AIDS. "In the 30 years I've been working in public health, the only thing like this has been AIDS, and we have to work now so that this is not the world's next AIDS," he said at the World Bank and international Monetary Fund's annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

Ebola, however, has far greater disaster potential than AIDS, maintains Orient, pointing out six major differences between the two:

* Universal precautions are mostly adequate for AIDS, which really does seem to be "hard to get." However, despite protective gear, hundreds of nurses and doctors have become infected with Ebola and died. …

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