Ebola in New Orleans: How would state officials handle an outbreak?


Written By: Meghan Henoumont

Mayor Mitch Landrieu met with leaders from Louisiana hospitals and public agencies on Monday Oct. 6 to discuss protocols in the event of an Ebola outbreak. The nearest cases of the highly infectious disease, Ebola, are in Dallas only 500 miles away from New Orleans.

Jimmy Guidry, state health officer for the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, said the meeting focused on communication and decision-making procedures, in the event someone enters a Louisiana emergency room with Ebola-like symptoms.

New Orleans public health department will work with state and federal health officials if a case presents itself locally. The Centers for Disease Control recommends hospitals and first-line medical responders ask the right questions if someone who has recently traveled to the West Africa region presents with Ebola-like symptoms.

The CDC recommendations include isolating the patient in a special isolation wing designed specifically for positive Ebola patients and testing for Ebola right away. Guidry said at Monday’s meeting it would take 24 to 48 hours to have definitive results showing whether or not a New Orleans patient had Ebola.

State officials said the key to containing an outbreak in the Crescent City will be knowing what to communicate to the public and when. Every New Orleans hospital sent department leaders to be educated on procedures to protect other hospital patients, staff and members of the public in the event of a positive case of Ebola.

On Oct. 13 a disposal site in Lake Charles rejected the incinerated belongings of Texas Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan. Duncan traveled to Texas from Liberia and was initially sent away from the emergency room at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, despite telling healthcare workers he’d recently traveled in West Africa. Duncan died Oct.8.

Chemical Waste Management Inc. said in a statement that while it is permitted to accept such materials it declined in the interest of Louisiana public health.

Health officials around the country are rushing to meet the constantly-changing guidelines set by the CDC following the transmission of the disease from Duncan to two nurses.

Nurse Nina Pham, who cared for Duncan, tested positive for Ebola on Oct.12. Only three days later, on Oct.15, a second healthcare worker from the same hospital tested positive for Ebola. The positive results have forced Louisiana health officials to question if all hospitals in the state are equipped to treat Ebola.

Dr. Tom Frieden, head of the CDC outlined new steps following the second nurse’s infection to stop the further spread of the disease, including the creation of an infection response team, advanced training for healthcare workers and specially-designed Ebola isolation chambers.

Friden’s statement followed the Oct. 14 Ebola projections released by the World Health Organization. The WHO raised the Ebola death toll to 4,447 people with nearly 8,900 more believed to be infected, mostly in West Africa. The death rate for the disease has risen from 50 percent to 70 percent. The WHO said in its statement that West Africa could have up to 10,000 new Ebola cases a week within two months.



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