UW Medicine hospitals are taking steps to safely evaluate and care for a possible Ebola patient. Our UW Medicine physicians and UW employees follow strict infection control practices every day and have procedures in place to ensure the safety of all patients, staff and visitors.
At the current time, Washington state has experienced no Ebola cases. Even though the risk of an outbreak is considered very low, all hospitals must be prepared to evaluate patients for Ebola and to safely treat them if needed.
Answers to common questions about this disease follow:
How can you get Ebola?
Ebola is spread through direct contact (with open skin or mucous membranes) with blood or bodily fluids from infected individuals who are having symptoms or animals. You cannot get Ebola through the air, water or food.
What are the symptoms of Ebola?
Symptoms of Ebola may appear from two to 21 days after exposure and include fever, headache, muscle pain, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain and bleeding. You are not infectious until you develop symptoms.
How do you treat someone with Ebola?
Treatment is primarily supportive with fluid resuscitation and electrolyte replenishment. Unfortunately, Ebola outbreaks have historically occurred in some of the poorest countries in the world where medical infrastructure and access to care is very limited.
How are UW Medicine hospitals preparing?
Our UW Medicine infectious disease experts have coordinated with Public Health – Seattle & King County, Washington State Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to develop plans to identify, isolate and treat patients with potential Ebola virus infection.
These plans are evolving to incorporate best practices learned from the CDC, other facilities and our own staff, as we do hands-on training. Preparations under way include:
- Training front-line staff in our clinics and Emergency Departments to ask about travel history when evaluating patients with fever or other symptoms of concern.
- Showing staff how to put on and remove the personal protective equipment that would be worn when caring for a patient with a suspected or confirmed Ebola diagnosis.
- Conducting drills to practice safe interactions with potential Ebola patients from their arrival in any of our facilities to evaluation and decisions about their care needs.
How can you prevent the spread of Ebola and other infections?
Hospital staff members routinely follow practices to minimize all types of infections. Hand washing is one of the easiest and most effective ways to combat infections.
As part of standard precautions for any patient, staff wear gloves to prevent contact with open wounds or body fluids, gowns when there may be splashes and masks with eye protection when caring for a patient’s airway.
Healthcare workers specifically trained to care for patients admitted with possible Ebola will use additional personal protective equipment to ensure complete covering of skin as well as respirators.
Also, one member of the care team will be an assigned observer. This person will ensure that the care team is following all protocols when putting on and taking off protective equipment. This will minimize the risk for safety breaches.
What should I do if I think I might have Ebola?
If you have Ebola symptoms and have recently traveled to West Africa (especially Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone) or if you have been in contact with someone who has been in this region, please call your healthcare provider before you visit a clinic or hospital in person. Your healthcare provider will gather information from you over the phone and let you know the appropriate next steps.
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