With widespread coverage of UTMB’s efforts to combat infectious diseases like Ebola, the university has been asked in recent days how it would handle a patient who comes to our ER or hospital with symptoms of the disease.
As you know, our academic medical center includes a major Level I Trauma Center and outstanding research capabilities in infectious diseases. UTMB scientists are renowned for numerous contributions to knowledge about Ebola, including their work on a vaccine to combat the virus, made possible by the high-containment Galveston National Laboratory on the UTMB campus.
Because of our research program, we have plans in place to effectively deal with an occupational exposure to viruses, including Ebola. In fact, late last week we reviewed our protocols with a representative from the U.S. Department of State, who was helping to assess related clinical capabilities at major medical centers. Although we do not anticipate needing to care for anyone with Ebola, UTMB hospitals are well-equipped to handle patients who present with a serious infectious disease. We routinely train hospital personnel on how to care for infectious disease patients in a safe manner, we have isolation rooms, we follow established protocols for infection control and prevention, and we keep personal protective equipment in stock at all times.
Like other health care facilities throughout the country and as a precautionary measure, UTMB is providing guidelines to clinical staff regarding Ebola. Should we have a patient who tests positive for the virus, we will work with the CDC and NIH to ensure the person gets the appropriate treatment, and we will follow all necessary isolation practices.
It’s important to remember – and to help others remember — that an Ebola outbreak in the United States is highly unlikely. According to the CDC, the virus is not spread through the air, but through direct contact with infected bodily fluids. People in the U.S. have access to care in facilities that routinely follow infection control, sterilization and disinfection protocols that are effective against this virus. Our role as a health sciences university with regard to Ebola or any infectious threat to health is to share our knowledge of the disease, develop and test new treatments and vaccines, and ensure we are prepared to safely treat our patients.