UW Medicine, local and state health officials discuss Ebola response planning with the news media at an Oct. 6 press conference in Seattle.
As the news media has reported, West Africa is experiencing an ongoing outbreak of the Ebola Virus. The first U.S. patient recently diagnosed with Ebola infection in Texas serves as a reminder that all hospitals must prepare for the potential of international travelers who present to their local healthcare facility with symptoms and possible exposure to Ebola, novel respiratory viruses, or other infectious diseases.
UW Physicians in Infectious Disease at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle have coordinated with Seattle-King County Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control to develop plans for the identification and management of patients with potential Ebola infection, explained Dr. John Lynch, medical director of Infection Control and Employee Health at Harborview. These plans are based on CDC guidelines and recommendations.
The CDC states that the risk of an Ebola outbreak in the U.S. is very low. Transmission can be prevented with appropriate precautions using the same infection control practices and personal protective equipment we use every day and which our staff is already trained, said Lynch, who is a UW associate professor of medicine, Division of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Ebola is spread through direct contact (with open skin or mucous membranes) with blood or bodily fluids from infected individuals or animals. You cannot get Ebola through the air, water, or food.
Symptoms of Ebola may appear between 2 to 21 days after exposure and include fever, headache, muscle pain, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and bleeding. Treatment is primarily supportive with fluid resuscitation, which has been a challenge in the affected countries.
In addition to potential travelers from an affected country, many U.S. healthcare workers have been providing medical care in West Africa. A few U.S. healthcare workers who were infected with Ebola have been transferred back to the United States for further care and all have recovered. In anticipation of more returning healthcare workers, the CDC and state and local public health departments are partnering with regional hospitals that may be willing to care for infected U.S. residents returning from West Africa.
Consistent with its mission and role of serving the public, especially residents of Seattle/King County, Washington state and the region encompassing Alaska, Montana and Idaho, and its role as the Disaster Control Hospital for Seattle and King County, Harborview will consider accepting U.S. residents with potential Ebola who may require medevac from West Africa. This would be done in close coordination with our public health colleagues.
Acceptance will be dependent on the current hospital capacity and ability to maintain our critical functions as the Level I adult and pediatric trauma and burn center for the region. UW Medicine physicians and UW employees at Harborview are leaders in infectious diseases, virology, and infection control. As a public safety-net hospital, Harborview has a longstanding relationship with Seattle/King County Public Health. The Ebola planning efforts are an excellent example of coordination among the CDC, state and local public health, and the Harborview team.
Lynch and Dr. Timothy Dellit, associate medical director for Quality Improvement and Risk Management, will host brown-bag sessions for Harborview staff to apprise them of the planning and to answer questions.
More on UW's research and educational response to Ebola:
Listen to a UW Medicine Pulse podcast on the Ebola outbreak