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New guidelines for Ebola

  • BERNIE O' HARE/LEHIGH VALLEY PRESS U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.) visited East Stroudsburg's Pocono Medical Center on Monday afternoon to review the procedures put in place to combat the Ebola threat facing the nation.
    BERNIE O' HARE/LEHIGH VALLEY PRESS U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.) visited East Stroudsburg's Pocono Medical Center on Monday afternoon to review the procedures put in place to combat the Ebola threat facing the nation.
Published October 21. 2014 04:00PM

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., visited East Stroudsburg's Pocono Medical Center on Monday afternoon to review the procedures put in place to combat the Ebola threat facing the nation.

He also explained how the federal government can help.

"We should not be focused on politics, name-calling or finger-pointing," he cautioned.

"We don't have time for that."

First discovered in 1976, Ebola is a viral disease that has largely been confined to West Africa.

Its recent appearance in Texas has raised public concern.

Dr. William Cors, PMC's chief medical officer, said that in the center's 100-year history, "We have dealt with the seen, the unseen and the unforeseen. We feel we are prepared."

An infectious disease specialist at PMC, Dr. Susheer Gandotra, agrees.

He said that PMC follows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention screening guidelines, right down to signs in the ER asking visitors if they have been to West Africa recently.

They are asked that question again when they register and a third time when they are seen by a physician.

Gandotra has also assembled a huge task force that has engaged in mock drills as recently as Monday morning so the best practices and procedures are in place.

The unknown

"It's a fear of the unknown, which creates a lot of concern," Gandotra said.

But he pointed to Nigeria, in West Africa, where Ebola has been eradicated.

"If they could do it, we could do it too," he said.

Casey said that more federal dollars are needed for the Hospital Preparedness Program, which was established by federal law in 2006.

At that time, $515 million was authorized, but current funding levels are down to $255 million.

He has requested senators in the appropriations committee to increase the funding to $375 million.

"It is the right thing to do," he said. "We can afford it."

In addition to more funding Casey advised, "We need to stop this at the source."

Acknowledging that 3,200 military personnel have been dispatched to West Africa, he questions whether "we're moving fast enough."

Last week Lisa Johnson, Blue Mountain Health Systems media relations coordinator, said, "Our staff has become more vigilant and are undergoing refreshers on things such as the proper use of their personal protection equipment. We've scheduled reminder in-service sessions, especially for our emergency room staff," she said.

Blue Mountain is also reaching out to their partners in emergency services, such as ambulance personnel.

"We all have to work together, be on the same page," Johnson said.

New guidelines

On Monday night, CDC officials released updated recommended techniques.

Demand for new guidance was spurred by the unexpected infections this month of two nurses at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital.

It's not clear exactly how they became infected, but clearly there was some kind of problem, CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said.

"The bottom line is the guidelines didn't work for that hospital," Frieden said, in announcing the revised guidelines.

New guidelines set a firmer standard, calling for full-body garb and hoods that protect workers' necks; setting rigorous rules for removal of equipment and disinfection of hands; and calling for a "site manager" to supervise the putting on and taking off of equipment.

They also call for health workers who may be involved in an Ebola patient's care to repeatedly practice and demonstrate proficiency in donning and doffing gear before being allowed near a patient.

They ask hospitals to establish designated areas for putting on and taking off equipment, whether it's a room adjacent to an Ebola patient's room or a hallway area cordoned off with a plastic sheet.

All this stems from the case of Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian man who came down with Ebola symptoms last month while visiting Dallas.

Duncan went to the hospital Sept. 25 but was not diagnosed with Ebola.

He returned to the hospital three days later and on Sept. 30 tested positive. He died Oct. 8.

Duncan's case led to the monitoring of about 50 people who came in contact with him before his second trip to the hospital, and dozens of health care workers who cared for him.

The 50 in the initial contact group have passed a 21-day observation period and no longer are deemed at risk for coming down with the disease.

There are now about 120 people in Texas being monitored for symptoms, with their wait period ending Nov. 7, said Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings. He said the number may fluctuate.

About 140 people are being monitored in Ohio because of contact or potential contact with nurse Amber Vinson, Ohio officials said.

Vinson, who cared for Duncan in Texas, flew from Dallas to Cleveland on Oct. 10 and flew back Oct. 13.

Flu affects more

In contrast to Ebola, Gandotra stated that influenza kills 50,000 people every year. "Now is the time to get your flu shot," he recommended.

Unlike the airborne flu virus, Ebola is only transmitted by direct contact with an infected person or objects used by an infected person.

Symptoms include a fever in excess of 101 degrees, severe headache, muscle pain, vomiting, loose stools, stomach pain and unexplained bleeding.

The Associated Presscontributed to this report.

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