Are U.S. hospitals prepared for potential Ebola patients?

Are United States hospitals prepared to deal with potential Ebola patients? Depends on who you ask.

Although the risk of the virus spreading to the area is extremely low, Pennsylvania Surgeon General Carrie DeLeone said most, if not all hospitals, within the stare have the equipment necessary to isolate someone with the illness and adequately protect healthcare workers and the public, The Patriot News reported. Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Medical Society notified doctors across the state about the symptoms and how to respond to them.

Not everyone feels the same. Hospital workers and patients could face real danger if someone unknowingly infected with the virus came to an American emergency room for care, writes former Lt. Governor of New York Betsy McCaughey, Ph.D., in an opinion piece for Fox News. She argues that with an estimated 14,000 people who die each year from C.diff and a total of 75,000 a year from hospital infections, it's unlikely hospitals will follow necessary precautions. 

"Rigorous adherence to prevention rules will mean the difference between life and death if a person carrying Ebola comes to a U.S. hospital," McCaughey writes. "… whether Americans die of Ebola will depend largely on what hospitals do when the first victims unknowingly carrying the virus are admitted."

The concern over Ebola exposure comes in the wake of reports that a patient who recently visited West Africa, in the middle of the outbreak hotzone, came to Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City Monday with a high fever and stomach problems. However, "after consultation with CDC and Mount Sinai, the Health Department has concluded that the patient is unlikely to have Ebola. Specimens are being tested for common causes of illness and to definitively exclude Ebola," the New York Health Department said in a statement.

There are more than 1,300 cases of documented Ebola in West Africa, which have resulted in 729 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms include fever of 101.5 degrees or higher, muscle and body aches, headaches, vomiting and diarrhea and, eventually, hemorrhaging of blood.

The CDC recommends healthcare providers remain on alert and evaluate suspected patients for Ebola if they have consistent symptoms and risk factors, including contact with blood or bodily fluids of a patient suspected of having Ebola, along with residence or travel to an area where Ebola transmission is active.

If hospitals suspect a patient has Ebola the CDC recomments that they:

  • Place patients in a single-patient room and keep the door closed

  • Provide gloves, gowns, shoe covers, eye protection and a facemask for all healthcare workers interacting with the patient

  • Avoid aerosol-generating procedures, and if they must be done, perform them in an airborne isolation room.

  • Clean and disinfect potentially contaminated materials with hospital-grade quaternary ammonium or phenolic products

To learn more:
- here's the Patriot News article
- check out the opinion piece
- read the statement
- here's the CDC data