Setting up defenses against Ebola

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa —along with the first patient diagnosed in the United States, who died Wednesday in a Dallas hospital — has raised concerns about whether the disease could ignite and spread in this country.

But doctors and public health officials in San Antonio say that’s unlikely. They are confident the city is well-prepared to deal with this latest disease threat, should the need arise.

“Our organization has the staff, facilities, protective equipment and the standard healthcare practices to properly protect ourselves, our patients and our community, just as we do every day against many infectious agents,” said Dr. Bryan Alsip, executive vice president and chief medical officer of University Health System.

University Health System is a major teaching and referral center with its physician partners at the UT Health Science Center. It has teams of professionals and evidence-based protocols aimed at containing and eliminating infections. Its virology lab works closely with state and local public health authorities. Over the past year, to supplement its traditional, aggressive disinfecting practices, the Health System acquired new Xenex room disinfection devices — manufactured locally — that use powerful xenon ultraviolet light to kill a broad range of infectious organisms in patient rooms, clinics, and critical-care areas.

Since the Ebola outbreak first drew international concern last summer, University Health System has stockpiled additional gowns, gloves and other personal protective equipment. Isolation locations for patients have been identified, and staff is aware of the need to obtain travel histories from patients along with proper follow-up procedures.

The Ebola virus isn’t spread through casual contact, but rather by direct contact with the blood or body fluids of an infected person through broken skin or unprotected mucous membranes such as the eyes, the nose or mouth. Furthermore, a person infected with Ebola isn’t contagious to others until symptoms appear.

“For the general public, no special concern or precautions are necessary,” the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District said in a statement last week. “There should be no danger of spread of Ebola in Dallas beyond those with close personal contact with the reported case.”

Metro Health and STRAC, the Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council — which oversees the emergency response for Bexar and 21 surrounding counties — have both been coordinating with physicians, hospitals and first responders to develop guidelines to be able to respond rapidly and appropriately to a suspected case of Ebola.

And the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, on the city’s West Side, has been studying Ebola for many years, including potential drugs and vaccine candidates — providing additional local expertise. This work may provide new therapies to treat or prevent Ebola cases in the future.

Photo of Ebola virus courtesy CDC