A third Ebola patient is coming back to the U.S.
Dr. Rick Sacra, 51, of Boston, is currently being flown from Liberia where he was volunteering with the Christian missionary group SIM to the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska.
That’s one of the best places in the world for someone with Ebola to be treated.
Nebraska Medical Center’s 10-bed Biocontainment Unit is one of the four U.S. facilities specially designed to care for patients suffering from dangerous, highly infectious diseases, like Ebola, and in this case it seems they have been preparing for the possibility that they might receive a patient.
According to their website, a State Department official visited the facility at the end of July to examine the facility, and they explain that the site was constructed for the purpose of treating patients suffering from these diseases.
“The risk it would pose to people outside the unit would be zero,” Dr. Phil Smith, medical director of the unit, says on the website.
And they have published other information that allows us to see exactly what makes it so safe.
In 2011, a University of Nebraska Medical Center group called UNMC HEROES uploaded a fictional YouTube video that shows exactly how the facility would operate if they were treating a patient with a viral hemorrhagic fever — like Ebola.
The video shows the extreme protective measures built in that make it an ideal spot to treat Ebola and even other, more contagious diseases.
Here’s how it works.
The center itself was funded in 2004, created and built from the start with infection control in mind. They undertake quarterly drills to ensure that they are prepared for treating patients with serious diseases.
The Biocontainment Unit is a negative pressure unit, which means that the air system is designed so air can’t flow from the unit to the rest of the hospital. While this is less important for Ebola, which only transmitted by close contact with body fluids, it would be essential for dealing with a dangerous influenza virus.
All the air that leaves the building is filtered and treated to kill anything that might be living in it.
Julie Gerberding of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention described the facility as “the safest possible environment to take care of those patients and give them the care they deserve but also the protection that they and the rest of the community require.The Biocontainment Unit facility was designed as one that could deal with the potential effects of bioterrorism, with staff on call at all times. Luckily, since this is a planned transfer, there’s nothing like that to worry about here.
Only authorised staff can access the Biocontainment facility.
Hospital scrubs and other protective gear are kept inside the facility.
Personal belongings are kept locked up separately, where they won’t be at risk of contamination.
In preparation for the patient’s arrival, this dunk tank is filled with an antimicrobial solution so that the outside of lab samples can be cleaned before being carried into a lab.
This machine sterilizes linens, garbage, or supplies that are leaving the lab.
Everything for patient care in a patient’s room is prepared before the patient arrives.
Patients also wear protective gear as they are being transferred to the Biocontainment Unit.
Staff receiving the patient and putting them into the facility wear full protective gear.
Patients are moved in an isopod, a special device designed to prevent them from contaminating anything else in the hospital.
The exterior surfaces of the isopod are decontaminated as well.
Security staff keeps hallways clear of other patients or healthcare workers to prevent any mishaps while the transfer is happening.
The entry to the unit works the same way as an airlock. There is a hallway between two doors, and both cannot be open simultaneously.
Inside the facility, the patient can be removed from the isopod.
Doctors can use a videoconferencing system to communicate with the patient and staff so not everyone has to wear the full protective suit at all times.
Biocontainment staff assist staff as they don their protective gear.
Lab specimens are placed in heat-sealed, double-layered plastic bags.
Those bags are then submerged in a dunk tank for 10 minutes.
The sealed bags are collected from the other side of the dunk tank, which is in another room. Specimens can then be studied in a Biosafety Level 3 lab that’s also part of the medical center.
Special firewalls and windows also protect the facility from fire or weather emergencies.
If a patient were to die on site, they’d be removed in a specially constructed and sealed body bag to make sure that there was no risk of external contamination after removing the body before it was cremated.
But with early identification of the virus and supportive care, someone is much more likely to survive the Ebola virus, as well as many other infectious diseases.
Here’s the full video (fairly cheesy, to give you fair warning) if you’d like to watch it:
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