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Containing Ebola Is Actually Not That Hard

Katie Jennings
ebola virus georgia emory hospital

AP Photo/ WSB-TV Atlanta

An ambulance arrives with Ebola victim Dr. Kent Brantly, right, at Emory University Hospital, Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, in Atlanta.

Dr. Kent Brantley, an American doctor who contracted Ebola while treating patients in Liberia, arrived at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta on Saturday, as we reported earlier. His colleague, Nancy Writebol, who also has Ebola is expected to arrive in the U.S. on Tuesday.

The current outbreak of the deadly virus, which is thought to originate in bats, has killed more than 800 people in West Africa. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and often bleeding inside and outside the body.

Brantley is the first patient with Ebola to ever be on U.S. soil. Many media outlets, and Emory itself, have reported that Emory University Hospital is one of only four sites in the U.S. set up to deal with highly infectious diseases, using a special facility known as a biocontainment unit.

However, many experts, including the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Tom Frieden, have stressed that Ebola can be treated in a normal U.S. hospital as long as patients are isolated properly.

"Any advanced hospital in the U.S., any hospital with an intensive care unit has the capacity to isolate patients," Frieden said at a press conference. "There is nothing particularly special about the isolation of an Ebola patient other than it's really important to do it right."

One of the main reasons that the virus has killed so many people in West Africa is because healthcare infrastructure in the region is extremely limited, meaning that hospitals — where they even exist — are understaffed and don't have the same technology as those in the United States. That means the monitoring and isolation techniques that are relatively routine in many modern hospitals often can't be implemented.

Special Facilties Aren't Needed

While bleeding to death is terrifying, it's that blood — along with other bodily fluids, like vomit and diarrhea — that make the disease contagious. Ebola is not transmitted through the air, and fears about the virus taking hold in the Western world are overblown.

Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and one of the discoverers of the Ebola virus told Agence France Presse: "I wouldn't be worried to sit next to someone with Ebola virus on the Tube as long as they don't vomit on you or something."

That's also why special biocontainment units aren't needed to treat Ebola patients, Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and the Center for Health Security, told Business Insider.

Adalja said that in the past few years, the U.S. has treated at least 8 cases of a hemorrhagic fever virus similar to Ebola, called Lassa fever, in normal hospitals without the disease spreading.

Here are some of the common sense isolation procedures recommended by the CDC for manging patients with Ebola:

  • The patient should be placed in a private room.
  • All persons entering the patient's room should wear gloves, gowns, face shields and eye protection. Plastic apron, leg, and shoe coverings may also be needed.
  • Before exiting the room, safely remove and dispose of all protective gear and clean and disinfect with a hospital disinfectant or a 1:100 dilution of household bleach.

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