116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY - Infectious disease experts at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics said Tuesday that they've been honing procedures, training and retraining staff, and feel 'very well prepared” should an Ebola patient require treatment at the facility.
Over the summer, the hospital began actively preparing for the possibility that a deadly Ebola virus crippling West Africa could travel to the United States. But once the first U.S. case was diagnosed in Dallas in September, UIHC has fine-tuned its plans, officials said Tuesday.
They have identified an area in the intensive care unit where any Ebola patient would be isolated, away from all other hospital patients. And they have identified teams of experienced and well-trained nurses and physicians who will treat the patient, along with a team of monitors tasked with making sure the health care providers follow protocol.
Experts have trained 20 UIHC nurses, 25 to 30 physicians, 15 to 20 monitors, and about 20 housekeepers on how to properly don protective gear and take it off in a manner that keeps everyone safe. Each worker must be certified before being allowed to work with an Ebola patient by proving they can safely get in and out of the detailed protective ensemble three times.
The hospital is limiting the number of people who would work with an Ebola patient. Also, those professionals wouldn't treat other patients while working on an Ebola case, said Theresa Brennan, chief medical officer for UIHC.
Emergency department staff, over-the-phone schedulers and pharmacists have been trained in basic screening techniques, asking if patients recently have traveled to West Africa. Housekeepers and laboratory technicians have been drilled on how to stay safe, and even concierges have been educated on what to watch for.
Staff members who have contact with an Ebola patient will be required to take their temperature twice daily and monitor for signs of illness. A text message with those twice-a-day readings will be sent to UIHC officials to make sure they catch any possible Ebola symptoms immediately, said Loreen Herwaldt, UIHC epidemiologist.
'We will know if they haven't monitored themselves,” she said.
And, Herwaldt stressed, Ebola can't spread unless symptoms are present. The viral load in a person's system increases as the illness progresses, she said. That means U.S. patients likely would be in the hospital by the point the disease becomes very contagious.
And, even then, Herwaldt said it can only spread through contact with bodily fluids.
'The average Iowan does not need to worry about Ebola,” she said.
Still, the health care setting is different. The UIHC has run several drills on how to handle an Ebola case, and later this week the staff will simulate a full shift to make sure employees can sustain for two to four hours in the full protective gear.
A UIHC nurse modeled the protective gear for reporters on Tuesday and said it takes about 10 minutes to put on and a bit longer to take off. The university has detailed procedures about decontaminating or disposing of gear and clothes.
No patients have yet been tested for Ebola in Iowa, and Herwaldt said the Iowa Department of Public Health is finalizing plans on how to transport suspected Ebola patients if they pop up in smaller clinics or facilities around the state.
Linn County Public Health officials last week also stressed Ebola preparations in place at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids and UnityPoint Health-St. Luke's.
The current Ebola outbreak has infected more than 10,000 and killed about 5,000 in West Africa since March, according to the CDC. The United States' first patient - Eric Duncan - was diagnosed in Dallas on Sept. 30. He died Oct. 8, becoming the nation's first and only Ebola death to date.
Two nurses who treated Duncan were subsequently diagnosed with Ebola. Both have been declared free of Ebola and released from the hospital, including Amber Vinson, who went home Tuesday.