Ebola outbreak changes hospital protocol

by: Graham Johnson Updated:

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SEATTLE, Wash. - The Ebola outbreak has nurses at Seattle's Harborview Medical Center now asking patients with fevers if they've been to West Africa.

So far none have answered yes, but the question at triage reflects how the outbreak is changing infectious disease protocol around the world.

"Over a month ago we would have been laughing (at the idea of) Ebola coming in with patients at Harborview, but now we take it very seriously," said Dr. John Lynch, Harborview's Medical Director of Infection Control.

On Tuesday, he showed a KIRO 7 crew one of the isolation rooms in the emergency department where a suspected Ebola patient would be kept.

Negative pressure isolation rooms are equipped with systems to keep outbound air from reaching the rest of the hospital, a precaution for infectious diseases that is actually not necessary with Ebola, which is not transmitted through the air, but only through blood and body fluids.

More relevant is a separated waste stream from the room, and protocols for medical personnel to wear and dispose of protective clothing.

Those coverings are not as dramatic as 'moon-suits' that have been used in Africa or during the transportation of two American patients to Atlanta for treatment.

Lynch says those suits have been worn in non-controlled areas and are not needed in American hospitals.

"These are basic blood and body fluid precautions that we can easily take in any hospital in the country," Lynch said.

In response to an inquiry from KIRO 7, a spokesman for Seattle's Swedish Medical Center provided basic information about emergency infection response protocols.

He wrote Swedish is prepared to set up an incident command system and consider a building lockdown.