Ebola scare on MCV proves preparedness

Austin Walker
Staff Writer

The VCU Medical Center’s abilities to  contain a patient with the Ebola virus were tested this month when a traveller from Liberia with symptoms of the virus was isolated in Richmond.

A patient suspected of carrying the Ebola virus was transported on Oct. 14 to the VCU Medical Center under heavy supervision and containment procedure.  After showing few symptoms of the virus and testing negative, she was released.

Due to the patient’s travel history and low-grade fever, Crossover Health Ministry, where she was  originally held, decided Ebola follow-up examinations were necessary. The VCU Emergency Preparedness Group coordinated a response to safely move the patient into isolation at the VCU Medical Center.

The patient suspected of carrying the Ebola virus was transported on Oct. 14 to MCV under intense supervision and containment procedures. After testing negative for Ebola, the patient was released soon after. Photo By Amber Holloway.

“We’re very concerned about Ebola and as such we’ve been very aggressive in our training and simulation, we’ve had a couple simulations, and in training our health care workers in donning and doffing the appropriate personal-protective-equipment,” said Chief of Infectious Diseases at VCU Medical Center Gonzales Bearman, M.D.

Ebola is an infectious virus whose name originates from the Ebola River. The World Health Organization states that the virus acuses an accute, often fatal illness if left untreated. The mortality rate for the virus ranges from  25-90 percent, depending on the date of the outbreak.

There have been four cases of the virus in the U.S., including a traveler who contracted the virus in West Africa and died of the disease shortly after, two healthcare workers who had treated him and a doctor who had recently treated Ebola patients in Guinea.

“Ebola poses a really, really miniscule public-health threat to non-healthcare workers in the United States,” Bearman said.

The patient, whose identity is anonymous for her privacy and safety, was visiting her family in Liberia. She claims to have not had any contact with infected patients or the medical staff who work with them. Upon her return to the States from West Africa, she reported having a fever and was quarantined .

Reporters have been told her fever was not the infamously high 101.5 degree fever  associated with the virus, and she did not exhibit any other symptoms indicative of the virus.

Despite their initial hesitation to conduct a full scan, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finally agreed to do an official, federal testing of the patient following her isolation to confirm that shedid not have the virus. She was dismissed from the hospital on Oct. 16.

Despite the woman not having Ebola, the Medical Center utilized many of their containment procedures to ensure staff safety. The CDC is asking VCU to remain on high-alert and proceed cautiously when dealing with patients who appear to have symptoms of the Ebola virus.

Bearman said that in the past six weeks, the VCU Medical Center has undergone two separate simulations, which aim to prepare the health care workers in properly utilizing their protective equipment as to prevent the spread of infectious disease, such as Ebola.

“In the event, of course, we had a student at Virginia Commonwealth Univerity who had confirmed or suspected Ebola, that person or student would come to the VCU Emergency room and would be treated with the highest degree of caution. We would have isolation and appropriate quarantine,” Bearman said.

According to Bearman, no university activities have ever been closed due to the fear of a contagious disease. In the event that a patient had a confirmed or suspected case of Ebola, and was being held at the VCU Medical Center, precautions are in place in preventing the spread of disease. Also, the treatment of an Ebola patient would be handled entirely by faculty of the hospital.

“We have no intention of medical students, nursing students, etc. having direct contact with confirmed or suspected Ebola patients,” Bearman said.

While no vaccination currently exists in the prevention of Ebola, with proper treatment of the disease in a patient who is of stable health, the mortality rate of the virus is significantly lower. Currently, VCU has an extensive arsenal of immunizations available to students, limiting the impact of other diseases like influenza, HPV, Polio and others. Many of these vaccinations are required by the university, and it is still in question if the vaccine for Ebola would be required by students if it became publicly available.

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