Ebola Q&A with UW Health Infectious Disease Specialist Nasia Safdar
Madison, Wisconsin - With Ebola now present in the U.S., hospitals and health care facilities across the country are stepping up efforts to prepare for potential cases of the deadly virus, and taking precautionary measures to prevent its spread.
Nasia Safdar, MD, a UW Health infectious disease specialist and UW Hospital medical director of infection control, answers some common questions:
Q. What are we doing here at UW Health to prepare? How would you characterize our readiness for Ebola cases here in Madison?
A. Our readiness is very good but we know this is a very complex situation and we are devoting many resources to keeping on top of it. We have a dedicated unit for Ebola patients, processes in our Emergency Department (ED) and clinics to detect patients who might have Ebola, and dedicated staffing resources. If someone enters our facilities, we ask right away if they have traveled to the Ebola-affected countries in West Africa - and if so, we check for fever and other Ebola symptoms. If we were to receive a patient who has a history of travel and exhibits Ebola symptoms, we would immediately place that patient in isolation. We are training staff on the use of personal protective equipment and safe handling of Ebola patients.
There's no question that every health care facility should have preparedness plans in the works. We're all making sure we're very well prepared.
Q. How does Ebola spread? Who is at risk, and under what circumstances (e.g., international travel)?
A. The main mechanism of spread is direct contact with blood and body fluids. At risk are those who have travelled to West Africa and have been in contact with Ebola patients or the health care system, or animals that can harbor Ebola (bats, for example).
Ebola patients experience vomiting, nausea and diarrhea in the later courses of the illness, so patients' family members will come in contact unless precautions are taken. The spread of Ebola through sneezing and coughing is unlikely, but some Ebola patients will have internal hemorrhagic fever, so if there's blood spatter from an Ebola patient's sneeze or cough, that is a potential mechanism of spread.
Q. What can the average person do to prevent infection?
A. Avoid travel to areas with Ebola cases.
Q. Is there any reason to panic?
A. I think we should be worried to the extent that we should all be extremely prepared, but no, there is no reason to panic.
Q. Was the spread to the United States inevitable? And is the U.S. prepared for this?
A. Yes, it was inevitable. For an infectious agent for which there is no treatment and there is no vaccine, it's really more than the biological pattern of disease that is required for it to either spread or be contained. You need infrastructure, you need public health and you need social constraints and social support mechanisms. And when those are lacking, even the best intentions in the world are not able to contain a virus for which there is currently no treatment.
So I don't think that we will see a similar pattern (as with the Africa outbreak) in this country, where there is extensive infrastructure. The United States is prepared to handle this. The public should not panic.
From the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS)
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services has designated UW Health as one of the health systems in the state to care for patients if any patients are diagnosed with Ebola in Wisconsin. All health systems will continue to prepare to identify, isolate and provide initial management for patients with suspected Ebola. For confirmed cases, DHS identified organizations that have plans in place to safely treat these patients while continuing to provide safe care for all their patients. UW Health has agreed to be one of the designated health systems.
Learn more from DHS about Ebola and preparedness efforts in Wisconsin:
From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Learn more about the Ebola virus and the U.S. public health response:
Date Published: 10/28/2014