Hospital Preparing for Ebola

10/15/2014

Hospital Preparing For Ebola

Emily Storrow | Posted: Wednesday, October 15, 2014 2:00 pm

With federal health authorities telling the nation’s hospitals to “think Ebola,” Wilkes Regional Medical Center (WRMC) has been preparing to diagnose and isolate any suspected Ebola cases in Wilkes County.

Cindy Wilson, infection preventionist and corporate compliance officer at WRMC, said the hospital began preparing for Ebola in August, when two Americans sickened by the virus were flown from Liberia to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Ga., for treatment.

Mrs. Wilson said WRMC has increased communication with the Wilkes County Health Department, Wilkes County Emergency Medical Services, the Wilkes Communications Center and other partners. She said each entity is focused on being prepared to screen and isolate an Ebola patient.

Sandy Sheppard, vice president of nursing and chief nursing officer at WRMC, said that the hospital must be prepared “at whatever point the person presents—be it in our emergency department, our urgent care or any of our facilities in the community.”

Mrs. Wilson said that if an Ebola patient arrived at WRMC, “the hospital would follow the latest CDC (Center for Disease Control) guidelines for screening and treatment.”

She said the hospital is forced to take a day-by-day approach with Ebola treatment plans, because the CDC’s recommendations are subject to change. “Twenty-four hours ago, the CDC felt that local hospitals should provide care. And then that changed today,” she said.

Federal health officials have begun to suggest that hospitals transfer patients to designated centers with special expertise in treating Ebola.

There are four biocontainment units in the U.S. that have been equipped to isolate patients with dangerous infectious diseases: at Emory University; the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.; Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha; and St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, Mont.

In a decision to centralize its approach to Ebola treatment, Novant Health Inc., a 15-hospital healthcare system with hospitals in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, designated three of its hospitals as treatment facilities: Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem, Presbyterian Medical Center in Charlotte and Prince William Medical Center in Manassas, Va.

Patients who test positive for Ebola at another Novant hospital will be transported to one of the three centers. Each will have dedicated units for Ebola treatment.

A global epidemic

The World Health Organization (WHO) released an updated Ebola death toll Tuesday of 4,447, but said the total will rise above 9,000 by the end of this week. This is the deadliest outbreak since Ebola was discovered in 1976.

Ebola is a viral illness with initial symptoms that can include a sudden fever, intense weakness, muscle pain and a sore throat, according to the WHO. Subsequent stages are vomiting, diarrhea, and—in some cases—internal and external bleeding.

According to the CDC, the disease is only contagious when an infected individual displays symptoms. Ebola is spread by touching the body fluids of a person who is sick or has died from the disease. The disease is not airborne, and is not as contagious as sicknesses like the common cold or the flu.

As of yet, there is no licensed treatment for the virus, but experimental drugs have proven successful in the U.S., and blood transfusions from patients who have recovered from Ebola and developed certain antibodies may be a promising method of treatment.

The WHO has emphasized that the chance an individual living in the U.S. contract Ebola is miniscule. Infection risks are much greater in West Africa due to lack of health resources. Developing nations are unable to properly quarantine people, provide workers with protective clothing and educate the population about risks.

“I think the concern here for us in Wilkes County is the same concern for the rest of nation,” Ms. Wilson said. “That is about people who have traveled outside the country bringing it here. We’re an international community, so there’s always a potential for new cases,” she said.

Many are also concerned with the spread of the virus within the U.S.

A second Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital worker who cared for Thomas Duncan, the first person to die of Ebola in the U.S., has tested positive for Ebola, the Texas Department of Health confirmed Wednesday. The health worker was also on a flight Monday, the day before she reported symptoms, the CDC said.

Screening efforts

Major U.S. airports are beginning to use enhanced screening measures for travelers arriving from West Africa. Those measures include observing passengers for symptoms, taking their temperature with a non-contact thermometer and having them fill out a health questionnaire.

Kennedy International Airport in New York City was the first of five U.S. airports to implement the additional screenings Saturday morning.

Screenings are expected to begin Thursday at Washington Dulles International Airport, Chicago O’Hare International Airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport.

According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 94 percent of the passengers who arrive from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone—the three most affected West African countries—fly into those five U.S. airports.

An Ebola hotline has been established by Carolinas Poison Center. Call 1-800-222-1222, and press 6 for questions about Ebola.

Back to News Listing