What if a case of Ebola were to show up in Denver? Who would treat the patient? What would the treatment look like? Would it spread?
Denver health officials say they are prepared to safely treat a case of Ebola if that were to happen. “We’ve actually been preparing for some time,” says Dr. Michelle Baron, associate professor of medicine at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center and medical director for the Division of Infectious Diseases.
Denver hospitals are operating under the assumption that it is possible for Ebola to show up. They have created a concrete plan for how to treat Ebola. At University of Colorado Hospital, a group of volunteers across the whole health care spectrum have agreed to treat an Ebola patient if that person came to the hospital.
Contrary to the media hype, Ebola is very treatable and well researched since the first outbreak in the 1960s, according to Baron.
She says it is unfortunate the general public is so fearful and has many misconceptions. A person has to be very sick to transmit the virus, and it cannot become airborne—a new myth going around. Measles is far more contagious but unlikely because the U.S. is a highly vaccinated population. Although Ebola is put in the same category as HIV, it is potentially less infectious. Unlike Ebola where a patient gets sick right away, a person with HIV can be infected and transmit the disease for a longer time without knowing.
One Ebola patient requires at least four or five health care workers: a nurse for one-on-one care; a physician to monitor the patient’s health; relief staff when either of those needs a break; and “buddies” or observers to keep an eye on the process and make sure checklists are followed.
“There were many people who were happy to volunteer and said, ‘It’s a part of my job, a part of what I do, I just want to make sure I’m safe.’”
The tricky part is many health care workers are not used to wearing that degree of protective wear for that long.
Beginning in mid-October, the health care team at University Hospital has gone through formal training. They practice wearing the full protective suit and do step-by-step treatment on fake patients.
Baron says the training refines your mindset. People in health care are taught “universal precautions,” or the assumption that every person may potentially harbor an infectious disease and to always be protective. Treating Ebola refines that mindset down to every detail, like exposing an inch of skin on the wrist.
University of Colorado Hospital continues to revise its plan and communicate with other hospitals in the system. “It’s a Magic 8 Ball. Would we have thought Dallas? I don’t know… it really could be anywhere just because of where somebody who’s traveling ends up.”