Austin hospitals prepare for Ebola, put new steps in place

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Following the first confirmed case of Ebola in the United States just up the road in Dallas, Austin hospitals are taking extra steps to make sure they are prepared for any possible outbreak. Seton officials gave us access to their emergency room which is where they would quarantine a patient. Isolating the patient is key, but the procedure is not as dramatic as you might think. Seton would actually take more precautions with a patient who has H1N1 or tuberculosis because those are airborne illnesses.

“We’d have you in a mask so that you can’t cough secretions out of you,” Dr. Chris Ziebell said, explaining how they would handle a patient who showed up with symptoms of Ebola.

Ziebell, the head of the ER at University Medical Center Brackenridge, said there would be no need to move the patient to a special isolation room used for airborne diseases. A regular room in the ER would work just fine, but the door would be closed and staff would suit up.

“This is a gown, it’s paper, but it’s impervious,” he said while pulling it over his head and arms. “Now I’ve got a full protective barrier on the front. And then a mask with an eye shield…and then my gloves.”

Ziebell would likely cover his shoes as well, but says covering up every inch of skin from head to toe – like we’ve seen in recent news coverage – is overkill.

“Even getting Ebola, a drop of Ebola blood on your skin isn’t likely to do anything unless you have chapped skin, dry skin, or a crack in the skin,” he added.

As a direct result of the Ebola case in Dallas, Seton has a new policy in place at all of their hospitals. Nurses are now required to asking every ER patient a new question: Have you traveled anywhere recently, and if so, where?

Keeping paramedics safe

Three Dallas paramedics who transported the man infected with Ebola to the hospital are temporarily off duty and under observation.

Paramedics are likely the first medical professional someone would see, so what can they do to stay safe and prevent the disease from spreading?

Austin-Travis County EMS says as soon as the news broke in Dallas on Tuesday, they sent information to their crews reminding them about the signs and symptoms of Ebola. Paramedics started asking patients questions back in April about travel if their symptoms were flu-like.

We’re also told paramedics are already doing enough to protect themselves on a regular basis, always wearing masks and gloves.

“We don’t want anybody to take offense that we’re protecting ourselves,” said Ernesto Rodriguez, chief of Austin-Travis County EMS. “We’re also protecting our patients by prevention of spread of disease.”

And there is also a procedure in place to disinfect every inch of an ambulance on the inside if they do transport a patient who is showing signs and symptoms of Ebola.

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