Tuesday, October 21, 2014 || By Michael Romain
The Ebola virus has healthcare professionals and government officials throughout the United States on high alert — and those working in the Chicago area, particularly at Maywood-based Loyola University Medical Center, are no exception.
Yesterday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) announced that four area hospitals would form a network of resource centers “in the unlikely event of a patient being diagnosed with Ebola in Chicago.”
Those hospitals include Rush University Medical Center, the University of Chicago Medical Center, Northwestern Memorial Hospital and the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.
“Even though the chances of an individual being diagnosed in Chicago are still extremely unlikely, we are doing everything we can to ensure our City is prepared to respond quickly and effectively,” the Mayor said.
Since news of Ebola’s arrival in the U.S., medical professionals have debated whether it’s better to treat patients at community hospitals or solely at medical centers specializing in treating contagious and virulent diseases.
“Treating Ebola patients is a big challenge and the care is in evolution right now as we are learning more,” Dr. Andrew Bonwit told MedPage Today, a healthcare publication focusing on clinical and policy coverage. Bonwit specializes in Pediatric Infectious Disease Medicine at Loyola University Medical Center.
“Some feel it is important to treat and triage the patient to an academic center where access to specialized care is available — certainly we at Loyola have developed protocols and responses to care for potential Ebola cases,” he said.
Considering the four-hospital network formed by Chicago, Maywood residents can perhaps take comfort in the probability that the village won’t be on the front line of caring for an Ebola patient should that patient materialize in the metropolitan area.
However, it’s not inconceivable that Loyola, perhaps one of the few medical centers in the state that is equipped to handle these kinds of patients, could find itself with an infected case.
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Last week, ABC 7 News reported that Loyola has ramped up its Ebola preparation and taken extra care to properly train its nursing staff in caring for infected patients.
In August, a nurse in Dallas who was caring for Thomas Eric Duncan — the Liberian man who was infected with the disease and transported to the U.S., where he would eventually succumb to the virus — was infected herself while she was treating Duncan.
According to the CDPH, “The Ebola virus is spread by direct contact with blood or other body fluids (vomit, diarrhea, urine, breast milk, sweat, semen) of an infected person who has symptoms or who has already died from Ebola.”
Hospital workers who constantly handle, and are exposed to, blood and bodily fluids of an infected person are much more susceptible to catching the virus. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) blamed the nurse’s infection on “a breach in protocol,” according to the ABC 7 report.
Although hospital workers who care for infected patients wear protective gear, if the gear isn’t properly handled, they could still come into contact with a patient’s infected fluids.
“We’re using the buddy system to ensure [that] people know how to appropriately put equipment [on] and take [it] off,” said Karen Anderson of Loyola.
The Ebola outbreak has been relatively isolated to West Africa. In order to be at risk, a person would have to be in direct contact with the bodily fluids and/or blood of a person who has recently been to the region and is experiencing symptoms of the disease.
In fact, the likelihood of the average U.S. citizen (who doesn’t work in a hospital located in an area likely to care for an Ebola patient) catching the disease is incredibly low — close to zero.
Nonetheless, the terrifying effects of the disease — intense joint aches, projectile vomiting, bleeding from the eyes — and the storyline surrounding it — its associations with Africa — are too exotic to be passed over by media hysteria. VFP
To read a fact sheet on the Ebola virus, click here.