October 24, 2014

UCMC details exhaustive preparations for Ebola

A patient suspected of having Ebola tested negative for the virus on Thursday night and was released from the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC). This comes three days after Kenneth Polonsky, the executive vice president for medical affairs, and Karen Warren Coleman, vice president for campus life and student services, sent an e-mail to the University community detailing preparations for the Ebola virus. The UCMC says they were well prepared to handle the case.

The UCMC, one of four hospitals in the Chicago area that is prepared to treat possible Ebola infections, has been designated by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to treat patients with the greatest risk of having the disease. The other hospitals able to treat Ebola patients are Rush University Medical Center, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and Lurie Children’s Hospital.

On Wednesday night, two passengers, an adult and a child, traveling separately from Liberia became ill while on their way to O’Hare Airport. The adult passenger was sent to Rush University Medical Center, has since improved, and is being monitored out of isolation. The child passenger was said to have no known risk of exposure to Ebola, but vomited during the flight. Eventually the child was sent to the UCMC out of caution for observation in isolation.

On Thursday night, the Chicago Tribune reported that the child’s test results for Ebola were negative and the patient was released from the hospital.

UCMC epidemiologist Emily Landon expressed confidence in the UCMC’s preparations for the virus.

“We are working with experienced, professional caregivers, who volunteer for this task. We provide extra training, to make [safety] issues top-of-mind. We go over how to put on the gear and how to take it off. People most often make mistakes when they take it off. Sometimes it requires patience and meticulous care to remove contaminated protective gear safely. We have the fancy Tyvek suits but they protect the staff only after they’ve been taught how to put it on and take it off,” Landon said.

Landon went into detail about how the UCMC is dealing with the threat. According to Landon, anyone who arrives at the UCMC complaining of fever, or of symptoms consistent with Ebola, will be asked about recent travel. Patients who are suspected of having Ebola will be put in an isolation room and infection control will evaluate the patient. Symptoms include fever, muscle and body aches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, clotting disorders, and bleeding.

35 physicians and nurses at the UCMC have volunteered to treat any patients suspected of having Ebola. Since August, these staff members have been practicing medical procedures, including checking vital signs on dummies while wearing the masks and full-body Tyvek suits with hoods.

“Because of research projects on campus, we have a fabulous biosafety team with a ton of experience training people. There are little things you wouldn’t think of. For example, sleeve covers over the Tyvek suit. These are easy to put on and take off. You take them off first, before removing the suit,” Landon said.

Since Ebola is spread through bodily fluids, the UCMC plans to take extreme caution in handling bodily fluids and waste from any patients with Ebola. Waste will be removed from the patient’s room very carefully, through a complex procedure, put in a garbage bag, sealed, sprayed with disinfectant, and bagged once more. It will then be put into a transport container, which will be heated in a large pressure cooker before it can be disposed of.

“I’m pretty comfortable with the logistics of taking care of a patient while protecting the staff. I worry about finding patients early enough, before they get really sick and pass the virus on to their family. I worry about the little glitches that have the potential to delay detecting an infected person, time that gives the virus a chance to spread,” Landon said.

Although the UCMC has 1,000 Tyvek suits for the hospital’s staff, exceeding the CDC guidelines, UCMC nurses were involved in a National Nurses United protest on Tuesday to have the CDC train all nurses on how to use hazardous material suits. The CDC says that based on recent experiences at hospitals, hazmat suits aren’t necessary for successfully treating Ebola patients. The CDC instead recommends a fluid-resistant gown or coverall with double gloves, waterproof boot covers, an air purifying respirator or mask, a full-face shield, and surgical hoods.