Are RI Hospitals Ready for an Ebola Outbreak?

Friday, August 01, 2014


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While Ebola hasn’t made its way onto United States soil as of yet, nationwide concern is rising as to whether or not local area hospitals and medical facilities could handle such a case or even an outbreak.

Many hospitals throughout Rhode Island feel as though they are up to the task – including South County Hospital and Rhode Island Hospital – because of their infectious disease departments have been working with the Center For Disease Control to be continually updated on the issue. Additionally, many hospitals have a program in place for infectious diseases already, which could be applied in some way to an Ebola case.

“The key priority in stopping Ebola is three things,” said Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “First off, you need to find the patients who have Ebola or Ebola-like symptoms and get them isolated and find anyone they have contacted to make sure they aren’t infected. Secondly, you need to respond to the cases so that you can prevent the spread. You need to follow up with any contacts for 21 days to make sure they don’t have it. Third, you need to build a capacity for those in the area to handle the current outbreak.”

Concern has been rising about Ebola largely due to its spread in parts of Western Africa, which has killed 729 and a singular case of a Liberian resident flying to Nigeria and dying after he landed. The disease has an incubation period of 21 days and has a mortality rate of 60-percent. Symptoms of Ebola include fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, vomiting and diarrhea. The disease is spread through bodily fluids and there is currently no definitive cure.

Proper Protocol in Place

According to Lee Ann Quinn, Director of the Infection Prevention and Control Department and the Employee Health and Emergency Preparedness Department, South County Hospital has been prepared for an Ebola outbreak for a while now because it follows similar protocol to that of any other infectious disease like SARS or MERV.

Proper protocol calls for an assessment anytime a patient comes in with potential Ebola symptoms, which includes making sure they haven’t travelled to one of the countries in which Ebola is prevalent within the past few weeks. If it appears that a patient may have Ebola then they will be quarantined in a negative pressure room.

From that point out, any contact with a patient would require hospital staff to wear proper protective gear, such as gloves, facemasks, gowns, and more. The beauty about this procedure, says Quinn, is that many hospitals can carry out this plan, as long as they have a negative pressure room and a properly educated staff.

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“This isn’t the first time that we have had some alerts about a certain kind of infectious disease,” said Quinn. “I think that it is naïve to say that an Ebola outbreak is not possible. Having said that, we have been very serious in making sure that our staff is educated and that our hospital is ready in the event that a case was to arise.”

Taxing Resources

Rhode Island Hospital has taken the potential threat of Ebola very seriously, even if it isn’t widely thought that the disease could spread to the United States anytime soon.

Rhode Island Hospital has procedures and education in place in the event that an Ebola or potential Ebola case was to arise. Additionally, the hospital has been practicing, using an unannounced drill to make sure that staff members are ready and properly screen patients for potential symptoms of Ebola or other infections that require isolation.

Regardless of procedure, education, or training, David Portelli, MD, Medical Director of the Emergency Department at Rhode Island Hospital, is worried that the first case that presents itself in the United States could be troublesome, something that could tax a variety of the hospitals attention and resources.

“The first case of Ebola in the United States – whether at our hospital or any other – is going to tax the hospital,” said Portelli. “Hospitals are busy places; even if one patient had a confirmed case of Ebola, the amount of attention and hysteria that could result could be challenging for a hospital to deal with.”


Related Slideshow: The History of Disease Outbreaks in New England

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New England Smallpox 1633

European settlers brought Smallpox to America in the 17th century, and it is estimated that more than 70% of the Native American population in the northeast was wiped out by the disease between 1633 and 1634.

Smallpox has been eradicated from the United States for over 60 years.

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Boston Smallpox 1721

Nearly 6,000 Bostonians contracted Smallpox in 1721, with 844 of them ultimately dying from the disease.

The Smallpox outbreak in Boston incited great debate about the use of inoculation in the United States, a practice that is obviously observed today.

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Tuberculosis 1800-1922

With a near 80% mortality rate among those infected, "The White Plague" struck worldwide and at home in the United States, particularly in industrial areas.

According to research by the Harvard Medical Library, nearly 40% of deaths of working-class people in urban American cities were cause by Tuberculosis.

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Influenza 1918

A worldwide pandemic that struck during World War 1, the "Spanish Flu" caused mass destruction in the United States and abroad.

20 million people across the globe are estimated to have died from the flu pandemic, with 675,000 Americans among the death toll.

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Polio 1952

58,000 cases of Polio and over 3,000 resulting deaths were reported in the 1952 epidemic in the United States.

The disease affects the nervous system, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt is probably the most notable person to live with the disease.

Polio has been eradicated in the United States for over 30 years.

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Asian Flu 1957

While not as lethal as the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, the "Asian Flu" caused almost 70,000 American deaths in before it was eradicated.

The Asian Flu is caused by the same virus that causes bird flu and swine flu.

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Holy Cross Hepatitis 1969

After being trounced on the second Saturday of the 1969 college football season by Dartmouth, the Holy Cross football team had each member get blood work done to determine if there was a medical reason for their poor performance.

90 out of 97 players on the team had elevated levels of a liver enzyme, and 30 of those 90 players showed symptoms of Hepatitis-A.

Dr. Leonard Morse, who went on to become the Commissioner of Public Health in Worcester, helped determine the cause of the sickness- a contaminated drinking water supply that only the football players had accessed.

The remainder of the season was canceled (an NCAA first) and the 30 players showing symptoms were quarantined in a single dormitory.

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AIDS Epidemic 1980s

While not documented until 1981, the HIV virus and AIDS continues to be one of the most debilitating diseases alive today in the United States.

Progress has been made over the years, as education about the virus and how to prevent it have brought the world from "AIDS is Preventable" to "AIDS is Treatable."

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NH Hepatitis 2012

30 people were diagnosed with Hepatitis-C in 2012 after a former hospital worker stole syringes and intentionally contaminated them with the disease, of which he was afflicted.

After pleading guilty to charges in New Hampshire, the perpetrator was sentenced to 39 months in jail.

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VT Whooping Cough 2012

Vermont declared a whooping cough epidemic in 2012 after over 500 cases of the disease were reported. 90% of the afflicted were children who had received the not-so-foolproof vaccine.

Whooping cough- also known as Pertussis- is difficult to diagnose initially because it starts with cold-like symptoms and progresses into a life threatening illness.


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