This morning, my heart went out to WBUR’s Jack Lepiarz as he waited outside Massachusetts General Hospital in the pre-dawn rain, shivering despite his five layers of clothing, for possible word on a patient who may have Ebola.
But along with my sympathy, I felt an odd calm — very different from the alarm I felt in mid-October when we had an Ebola scare in Braintree.
What’s changed? Perhaps more than anything, the steady accumulation of time without another case contracted in the United States since two Dallas nurses caught the virus from Thomas Eric Duncan eight weeks ago. But also, it’s that this rare and terrifying virus, synonymous with “Hot Zone” nightmares, has become ever more familiar, and its limits more clear — even as it remains a major scourge in Africa.
The latest word from MGH is that the patient’s initial test for Ebola was negative. Good news, but these are the thoughts that most suppress my stress hormones:
1. Boston Hospital Strong
This is the medical mecca that became a model for the country in its handling of the marathon bombing injuries. It was prepared for that emergency, and, as Martha Bebinger reported, it has six hospitals prepped and ready for Ebola patients:
The six hospitals collaborating to provide care include Bay State Medical Center in Springfield and five Boston facilities: Boston Medical Center, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Tufts Medical Center and Massachusetts General Hospital.
“Hundreds of people at each hospital have spent incalculable hours in the necessary planning, training and practice efforts that are needed to respond to the challenges posed by this disease,” said Dr. Paul Biddinger, vice chair of emergency preparedness at Mass General.
Boston Children’s Hospital says it expects to join the Ebola treatment collaborative, and UMass Memorial in Worcester may as well. The other 59 acute care hospitals in Massachusetts would screen a patient, hold anyone who is at high risk or Ebola-positive in isolation, and then transfer the patient, says Public Health Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett.
2. Airborne? Not
Scientists don’t like to say “never,” so even though all indications are that Ebola spreads only through direct contact with bodily fluids, it initially scared me when there were even hints that it might spread more easily.
This interview with Boston University Ebola researcher Elke Muhlberger helped — Reality Check: How People Catch Ebola, And How They Don’t – but what helped even more was this great recent explainer from NPR: Ebola in the Air: What Science Says About How Ebola Spreads.
It includes the helpful graphic at the top of this post, and this wonderful little story, to be recalled when next you sit near a coughing passenger on the T:
Take the case of Patrick Sawyer. Back in July, the Liberian-American businessman boarded a plane from Monrovia to Lagos, Nigeria. He was clearly very sick — and very contagious — with Ebola. He even vomited while on the plane.
There were about 200 other passengers on the flight. None of them got infected.
3. Bedside Care Continue reading