UIHC prepared for Ebola


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Officials at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics aren’t concerned about the Ebola virus entering Iowa. But it hasn’t stopped them from preparing for the worst-case scenario.

UIHC doctors met with the media Tuesday to address the training techniques and equipment being prepared by the hospital.

UI Professor Loreen Herwaldt, an epidemiologist, showcased measures the hospital is taking to battle the virus if it does come to Iowa City, including new and improved personal protective equipment. But she said the average Iowan will never come close to someone with Ebola.

Earlier Tuesday, President Obama said the United States should support those who are returning from Africa after providing health care. A strong response in Africa will result in a safer United States, he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called this current outbreak centered in western Africa the “biggest and most complex Ebola outbreak in history.”

According to the CDC, there have been only four confirmed cases of Ebola in the United States, with one death. The Ebola virus can cause symptoms such as fever, headaches, vomiting, and hemorrhaging.

The first confirmed case in the United States occurred in Dallas after Thomas Eric Duncan traveled from Liberia to the United States. 

Despite a low chance of a case of Ebola, UIHC staffers have prepared for the potentially deadly virus, said Theresa Brennan, the UIHC chief medical officer.

Brennan said the hospital has set aside a four-bed isolated area in the intensive care unit that would be able to house at maximum, two patients with the disease.

Roughly 20 nurses, between 20 and 30 doctors, 20 housekeepers, as well as a core team of staff monitors, have been given training to deal with the disease.

The hospital has been running drills and simulations this week and will continue to run them. One of the simulations run later in the week will include a full-shift-length drill in which nurses and physicians will act as if they are treating a patient in the intensive care unit.

Herwaldt said the CDC would determine what treatment the patient receives at the hospital.

The UIHC has also developed a process for those who would come into contact with Ebola patients in putting on and taking off personal protective equipment, Brennan said.

She said the process can take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes to put on the suits, which include an impermeable layer of material, numerous layers of gloves, and complete body coverage, even if one of the garments were to tear.

The suit also includes a cooling vest underneath the protective gear so health-care workers in the high-stress environment can remain cool.

UIHC officials are developing a text-message system, monitored by a clinic in the hospital, that would send two text messages a day requiring those who work with infected patients to respond with their temperature and any potential symptoms, Brennan said.

This system would allow the university to monitor all the staff members who could potentially come into contact with patient body fluids and identify any workers that would need to be quarantined if necessary.

The doctors emphasized there is very little risk of becoming infected in Iowa City.

“No symptoms, no transmission,“ said Clinical Professor Daniel Diekema, the director of UIHC Division of Infectious Diseases. “So the concern of running into someone in a Walmart, or a mall, or a bowling alley and being at risk for Ebola — there simply is no risk.”

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