The US should be ready to build facilities, akin to what the military has been setting up in West Africa – specialized Ebola hospitals with moon suits, free-flowing bleach solutions, and brave healthcare workers who have been properly trained, and will be properly compensated for their risk.
Conventional hospitals have failed to protect at least two healthcare workers from contracting Ebola, despite what sounds like fairly diligent safety precautions. The nurse in Spain, and the nurse in Dallas just diagnosed today, both practiced stringent precautions and wore protective gear. It has been postulated that a single Ebola virus is enough to transmit the infection between close contacts. And while the CDC director assumes there was “a breach in protocol” to explain the nurse’s infection, this is not reassuring to any healthcare worker who knows how impossible it is to achieve perfection in the care of sick patients. Doctors, nurses, medical workers – we are not trained, prepared, or equipped to deal with something like Ebola.
And even with buddy systems and moon suits, any human being lacks perfect motor execution when disrobing. And the disrobing protocol in this country does not even include being sprayed/bathed in a disinfection solution prior to disrobing – something done in Africa for years. This is outrageous.
Even with regional Ebola treatments centers, the diagnosis and triage of potential infections will likely continue to be through the conventional health system, as false scares will certainly outnumber true diagnoses. But once a diagnosis is made, that patient needs better care, and workers need better protection than all the reassurances thus provided by the CDC and WHO and hospital protocols.
The four hospitals in the country commonly cited by the news as having high containment units do not have sufficient beds to handle Ebola if it picks up speed and numbers. The death toll among healthcare providers in West Africa is much, much higher than the average population. It would be here, too.
The Ebola epidemic continues to grow exponentially in Africa. Today we have the luxury of hyper-focused contact tracking and supervised quarantines in the United States, but these efforts take considerable resources and attention, and will fall apart if the disease count grows. Such is the terrifying power of exponential math.
It is not a good idea to have Ebola patients in conventional hospitals like Texas Presbyterian. Conventional hospitals are already a nexus point of the worst antibiotic-resistant contagions in the world. We need to enlist the help of groups like Doctors Without Borders that really know how to protect their staff, and we need to start thinking about containing and treating this infection outside the normal hospital box.
Build it, and hope they never come.