Traveling Expert Ebola Team Set Up by CDC for New Cases

A team of infection experts will be sent to any U.S. hospital with a confirmed Ebola case, according to the nation’s top disease control official, who said such a group could have prevented the infection of a Dallas nurse who cared for a patient with the deadly virus.

“We’ll put a team on the ground within hours, with some of the world’s leading experts in how to take care of and protect health care workers,” said Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I wish we’d put a team like this on the ground the first day the patient was diagnosed,” Frieden said yesterday in a conference call, speaking about the Dallas case. “That might have prevented this infection.”

Following the Dallas nurse’s infection -- the first transmission on U.S. soil -- the CDC is escalating control and surveillance efforts. That includes plans to name a hospital in every state with special Ebola training and facilities. The efforts come after questions about how the nurse, Nina Pham, was infected while caring for Thomas Eric Duncan, who died of the virus on Oct. 8.

The CDC teams will include experts in infection control, lab science, personal protective equipment, and management of Ebola units, Frieden said.

Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, where Duncan was treated, will also get training from two nurses from Emory University Hospital’s infectious diseases unit. Emory has treated three Ebola patients, two of whom were evacuated to the U.S. from Liberia and have been released after recovering.

Infection Mystery

The CDC said it doesn’t know exactly how Pham was infected. “We have not yet identified a specific interaction that resulted in exposure and infection of the nurse,” Frieden said.

As the agency mobilizes nationally, Bellevue Hospital Center has been designated as New York City’s go-to facility for Ebola treatment. The 828-bed midtown hospital will take any suspected patients that fly into New York City airports, said Ian Michaels, a spokesman.

It will also take confirmed patients from the New York City Health and Hospitals Corp., which has 11 hospitals including Bellevue, Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx and Queens Hospital Center in Jamaica. If other New York hospitals diagnose a patient, Bellevue will take over care if needed after consulting with the city health department, Michaels said.

More Monitored

In Dallas, officials are now monitoring 76 health workers who took care of Duncan or handled his bodily fluids. That’s in addition to the 48 people the patient came into contact with before being isolated. Those people have been monitored for about two weeks.

The CDC will “double down on training, outreach, coordination, education and assistance,” to keep the disease under control, Frieden told reporters on Oct. 13. “Even a single infection is unacceptable.”

Currently there are only four hospitals in the U.S. with top-level biocontainment units, according to the CDC. While Bellevue isn’t one of the four, it has set up four isolation rooms within its infectious disease ward, adding additional electrical capacity to the rooms to support intensive care needs, Michaels said.

The hospital has also added a laboratory within the infectious disease ward to handle suspected and confirmed patients’ blood, so samples will not have to be transported to the hospital’s regular laboratory.

Bellevue sees about 115,000 patients in its emergency room every year and is the oldest continually operating hospital in the U.S., according to its website.

Ebola has infected about 8,400 people, killing more than 4,400 in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. There is no approved cure, and current treatment involves replacing fluids and using antibiotics to fight off opportunistic infections.

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