Is the United States prepared for the arrival of the Ebola virus? A new report suggests that American hospitals may have trouble handling and disposing of Ebola-related waste materials, potentially causing the virus to spread.
To date the Ebola outbreak has been limited to West Africa, with only a few scares here in North America. But it’s impossible to rule out the possibility that the virus, which is transmitted through bodily fluids and results in violent vomiting and diarrhea, will have a greater impact on the health of Americans.
Now, a report conducted by Reuters suggests that American health professionals won’t be ready for the virus if it does make its way overseas. Reuters examined how medical experts at Emory University in Atlanta handled Ebola waste while treating a pair of infected missionaries.
Reuters found that Emory’s disposal company, Stericycle, initially refused to handle the Ebola waste. The patients reportedly generated about 40 bags of medical waste each day.
Emory clinicians responded to the crisis by using 32-gallon rubber containers with lids from Home Depot to store the waste. Eventually they began using a special sterilizer capable of neutralizing the waste before it was disposed of.
Unfortunately, few U.S. hospitals have the resources required to neutralize materials on site. That means many other health centres may be forced to improvise, leaving the public vulnerable to exposure.
“It would be very difficult for a hospital to … care for Ebola cases,” noted Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, chair of the Infectious Diseases Society of America’s Public Health Committee. “This desperately needs a fix.”
Federal health and transportation agencies are meeting right now to discuss how an Ebola outbreak should be handled by hospitals.