Austin city medical Officials plan for case of Ebola in City

Nelson Aydelotte

Five thousand people, nine countries and spreading. Ebola has always been on the watch list, but now with the recent outbreak, it is on the top of healthcare workers’ and citizens’ minds. If it was just a common cold or another minor virus, it wouldn’t be much of a concern. But it’s not just another common cold — it’s maybe the deadliest virus on earth, and now it’s in Texas.

“A patient would not be contagious until they show symptoms of fever or carrying the virus,” Assistant Medical Director of Austin/Travis County EMS, Dr. Jose Cabanas said. “Until then, they wouldn’t be able to infect anyone in the general public. At the beginning of the disease process, you have very little chance of transmitting the disease.”

But if a person were to be infected with the virus in Austin, the Travis County EMS has a plan in place.

“If a suspected patient had Ebola in Austin, we would undertake all safety precautions, contact the hospital, check body fluids, etc.,” Dr. Cabanas said. “If we believe him to have Ebola we would tell the hospital to get all the necessary equipment and take all precautions in order to take care of that patient. We would then take him to one of our receiving hospitals. At the hospital, the caretakers would let us know when they could receive the patient. The patient would then be put in an ‘identified’ location in the institution that had all the necessary equipment and personnel. Once all this happens, the hospital would notify the health department and they would coordinate with the local authorities and the CDC to determine if the patient meets the risk profile and symptoms for Ebola. After that, he would have a sample taken and that would be sent to the Department of Health Services lab here in Austin. They will do a test that will come back to us in 8-10 hours. Another sample or ‘script sample’ would be sent to the CDC for complete confirmation which would take another 24 hours.”

Some students such as sophomore Brett Etter believe that Austin should have a plan to treat and contain Ebola.

“I think it is totally necessary for us to have a plan,” Brett said. “Ebola is a serious virus that deserves a lot of our attention medically. If someone were to get it here in Austin I wouldn’t want to have to stay home and be afraid, I would want personnel here to treat and contain it as soon as possible. A plan is most diffidently worth the time and investment.”

Dr. Chris Ziebell is the director of the Emergency Room at University Medical Center: Brackenridge, the receiving hospital, and knows that in order to handle Ebola you need a plan to contain it.

“We’re in the process of putting together a ‘clinical detention unit’ which is a floor designated to treating and diagnosing Ebola,” Dr. Ziebell said. “Whenever anybody comes to any of our hospitals for any reason, we ask them ‘have you had any history of infection’ and if the answer is ‘yes’ we ask them if they’ve ‘been to any of to any of these three countries’ (Guinea, Sierra Leone, or Liberia). If the answer to that is ‘yes’ then we will transport them to the specialized Ebola hospital here in Austin, staffed by a specialized team that has been trained in how to treat and how to protect themselves against Ebola.”

Many questions still remain on how Ebola was spread to the two nurses in the Dallas hospital, when they took all the necessary precautions and followed all procedures.

“If you think back to when the first person got Ebola in Dallas, that was the first person to get Ebola in the U.S.,” Dr. Zeibell said. “So when he went into that hospital, while they did the best they could to protect themselves, they really didn’t know how to. They really weren’t trained in how to prevent the virus from spreading.”

While the Austin Travis County medical department hopes that an instance of Ebola in Austin never happens, they are ready and prepared to treat the disease if it ever occurs.