Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Getting Ebola under control

The Ebola virus is in the U.S.--specifically, two nurses who treated a patient who returned to the U.S. with an Ebola infection are themselves now being treated for the virus. The U.S. is doing what it usually does when confronted with a health or security emergency--panicking. The panic, which is far more communicable than the virus, is being spread by news organizations that are desperate for ratings, and it's not being helped by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC,) which seems to be a couple of steps behind the situation on the ground.

From what I've seen and read, there are a few common-sense steps that we can take to limit exposure and get ahead of the virus:
  • We need to quickly set up more high-containment medical wards. At the time that the first Ebola patient in the U.S. was identified, there were only five high-containment wards that were fully equipped for treatment of Ebola and other viruses. In addition to improving containment in existing public hospitals, we should also consider basing some of the new facilities in isolated domestic military bases with their own airfields in order to limit the risks of infection spreading in cities.
  • It's clear that Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas was unprepared to treat Ebola patients, and the Washington Post reports that the hospital kept adding more protective equipment as the first patient deteriorated. The two nurses who were infected may have gotten their infections early in the process, before sufficient isolation was established. A standard protocol has to be distributed to every hospital and health care facility in the country that might have to treat a patient with Ebola, even if the procedure is only to isolate the patient and prepare them for transport to a more suitable facility. Standard protocols are also necessary for the destruction of the bodies of people who die from Ebola, because their bodies remain highly infectious after death.
  • Voluntary quarantine doesn't work, especially when even trained medical professionals ignore the rules. NBC's medical correspondent Dr. Nancy Snyderman broke quarantine, and Amber Vinson, the second nurse infected in Dallas, flew to Cleveland and then back to Dallas, where she checked herself into the hospital yesterday, even though she was under observation. Quarantine has to be mandatory, and if rules for compensation don't exist, we need some way for the U.S. Government or states to provide some income to people who will lose their only source of income while in quarantine. That will relieve pressure on many people who would otherwise be tempted to hide their exposure or break their quarantine.
  • The U.S. Government and other countries must continue to send trained health and safety professionals to West Africa, both for humanitarian reasons and to stop the spread of Ebola to other countries.
  • We need to establish monitoring at every Customs/Immigration checkpoint in the U.S., focusing on all flights originating from West Africa and all passengers who came from or spent time in West Africa.

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