Ebola Response Suits in Short Supply Amid Demand

Fire departments are struggling to get the safety suits needed to protect emergency crews responding to patients who may have Ebola, their union said in a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama seeking help.

The International Association of Fire Fighters said some local fire units are being forced to wait until next year to get the personal-protective gear that shields workers from being exposed to bodily fluids, the only way to contract Ebola. Dupont Co. and Medline Industries Inc., makers of the products, say demand has surged as health departments and hospitals respond to the threat.

“The administration should put pressure on manufacturers to increase production to meet the growing demand,” Harold Schaitberger, president of the 300,000-member union, said in a letter to Obama. The group met in recent days with officials about the response to the deadly virus, and said supplemental funding from the federal government is needed to help local governments pay for the gear and training.

Medline, the largest U.S. closely held maker and distributor of medical supplies, said it’s getting hundreds of calls a day from hospitals and health departments interested in its protective suits. Dupont said demand has exceeded supply.

Because coming into contact with vomit, sweat, blood and other fluids from Ebola-infected patients can transmit the virus, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Oct. 24 that ambulance personnel or firefighters wear protective suits including a protective hood, shoe covers and a double set of gloves when responding to a possible Ebola victim.

CDC Directions

The agency also provided specific directions for putting on and taking off the suits, and so health workers nationwide are now practicing for any possible case. That means greater demand for the outfits.

In Houston, authorities bought 1,100 impermeable suits for local emergency responders, then trained them after the local union leader, Alvin White, went on television to complain that they didn’t know the how best to use the clothing.

Other areas are ramping up, too.

“Even with the significant capacity increases we have already made, demand is now exceeding our supply” for specific suits, Sandra James, a spokeswoman for Dupont, said in an e-mail. That is leading to “longer lead times,” she said.

Dupont, which sells the Tychem suits for protection against chemicals, had accelerated production to meet demand in West Africa, she said.

Dallas Death

The worst-ever Ebola outbreak began in West Africa in December, killing about half of the more than 10,000 people who got the virus in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, the most-affected nations. A Liberian man who traveled to Dallas died of the disease in a hospital. After two nurses who cared for him contracted the disease, U.S. officials and hospitals revamped their procedures for handling cases.

People infected with Ebola aren’t contagious before showing symptoms, which include fever, vomiting and diarrhea. The disease is most contagious just before death, when the patient is releasing large amounts of infectious fluids.

Lakeland Industries Inc., the Ronkonkoma, New York, maker of safety and work clothing, said last week it’s raising $11.2 million in part to make more protective suits and “keep up with the significant global demand we have seen” because of Ebola.

Lakeland has gained 81 percent in trading this month, closing at $12.60 yesterday. The stock reached $29 two weeks ago.

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