Ebola Frequently Asked Questions

As a major regional health care system, Hartford HealthCare monitors world health events for the good of our patients, their families and our communities. Since August, we prudently and thoughtfully have been preparing to deal with Ebola, should the need arise. We want to ensure that we keep our staff, other patients and families safe if we are called upon to provide care for an Ebola patient.

Hartford HealthCare’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Rocco Orlando and Head of Infectious Diseases Dr. Jack Ross have been working with state and federal officials, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to obtain the most up-to-date information about the Ebola virus and treatment and prevention.


Ebola Response Plan

Hartford HealthCare has developed a coordinated response plan to safely care for potential Ebola patients.


Frequently Asked Questions

We hope you find the following answers to frequently asked questions informative, helpful and reassuring.

1. How much danger does Ebola pose to the U.S. general public and to patients in U.S. hospitals?
The Ebola virus doesn’t pose a great risk to people in the United States, primarily because the disease is not easy to catch. In order to be infected, you must have direct contact with the virus through broken skin or mucous membranes with an infected person’s bodily fluids. Ebola isn’t spread through the air like TB, measles, flu or meningitis. It’s also easy to kill Ebola with common hospital disinfectants. Peter Piot, one of the people who discovered Ebola in 1976, said that Ebola “requires very close contact.”

2. What exactly is Ebola?
Ebola is a rare disease caused by infection with an Ebola virus strain (there are five strains of the virus). Ebola can cause disease in humans and nonhuman primates, such as monkeys, gorillas and chimpanzees. Ebola viruses, which are found in several African countries, were first discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since then, outbreaks have appeared sporadically in Africa.

3. Where did Ebola originate?
On the basis of evidence and the nature of similar viruses, researchers believe that the virus first was in animals, and most likely, bats.

4. What is happening with Ebola now? Why is it in the news?
An Ebola epidemic currently is affecting several countries in West Africa. It’s the largest outbreak in history.

5. What’s being done to prevent the spread of Ebola in the United States and elsewhere?
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is working with other U.S. government agencies, the World Health Organization (WHO), and other domestic and international organizations to deal with the issue. The CDC also has opened its Emergency Operations Center and has deployed teams of public health experts to West Africa. In addition, the U.S. military has sent a team to West Africa to help contain the virus. Ebola screenings have been implemented at airports in the United States, including Dulles in Washington, D.C.; JFK in New York; Atlanta; and O’Hare in Chicago. Other international airports also have begun screening for the virus, and screening most likely will be expanded.

Locally, Hartford HealthCare has instituted CDC screening protocols across our health care system, including at Hartford Hospital, Backus Hospital, The Hospital of Central Connecticut, MidState Medical Center, Windham Hospital, physicians’ offices and with all outpatient services. We already have trained staff members to screen for Ebola and are training specialized staff to care for an Ebola patient, should the need arise.

6. Why are we seeing Ebola in the United States today?
Recently, patients with Ebola were brought back to the United States for care that could only be provided in the U.S. One travel-associated case was diagnosed in the United States on Sept. 30, 2014. Since then, two nurses at Texas Presbyterian Hospital, which provided care for the travel-case patient, tested positive for Ebola. We expect to see a small number of cases come to the United States from travelers coming from West Africa.

7. Have there been Ebola cases in the U.S. before?
No, there have not been Ebola cases in the United States previously.

8. Who is most at risk?
Health care workers are the most likely to encounter the infected blood, urine, vomit or feces of patients. Hartford HealthCare staff members are trained to follow CDC guidelines for delivering care, which includes wearing protective clothing, such as special gowns, eye protection and gloves, to eliminate the risk of contact with secretions. Others at high risk are patients’ family members who may have direct skin contact with or exposure to the blood or body fluids of the patients.

9. When is a person infectious?
A person is not infectious until fever and symptoms appear. It can take up to three weeks for the symptoms (which include fever, headache, muscle pain, chills, diarrhea, and vomiting) to appear. On average, however, symptoms usually appear seven to 10 days from exposure. Rarely, people may develop symptoms as early as two days after exposure. Patients are most contagious as the disease progresses, usually nine to 10 days after the onset of symptoms. Due to the severity of the symptoms, once they are ill, most patients have limited contact with others except close contacts in the home or health care setting. Hartford HealthCare staff members have been trained to recognize symptoms and to proceed with next steps for managing the patient’s care.

10. How long is a person infectious?
The patient remains infectious as long as his or her blood and body fluids contain the virus. The patient should receive continued blood tests until no virus is detected. It may take two to three weeks for the virus to clear.

11. How do you identify a potential Ebola case?
Hospital and other personnel throughout Hartford HealthCare have been trained to screen patients at emergency departments and other facilities (doctor’s offices, home care, etc.) to determine the possibility of exposure to Ebola. Screening includes determining if the patient has traveled to one of the countries affected by the Ebola outbreak and if the patient has any symptoms that could be related to Ebola (fever or muscle pain, abdominal pain, severe headache, vomiting, diarrhea). If a patient is suspected of having Ebola, staff members have a specific number to call to immediately contact Hartford HealthCare regional Infectious Diseases specialists, who work closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and with the state Department of Public Health.

12. What happens if it’s determined that a patient may have Ebola?
A Hartford HealthCare regional Infectious Diseases provider, in conjunction with the Emergency Department provider, will see the patient to determine if the patient had an exposure leading to risk for Ebola. Further evaluation and blood work will be based on this risk assessment. High-risk patients will be immediately isolated and staff caring for such patients will follow full protective protocols. Testing for Ebola can only occur after the Infectious Diseases physician consults with the state Department of Public Health (DPH) and with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As of October 1, approximately 15 people in the United States had been tested by the CDC after thoughtful evaluation of the true risk of Ebola exposure. In addition, the CDC has a protocol for dealing with patients on planes who may be ill. (Hartford HealthCare Ebola Response Plan)

13. How is the Ebola patient cared for? How do you keep other people from being exposed and getting sick too?
The CDC has very specific guidelines for care, including “contact and droplet precautions,” which means care givers must have eye protection with goggles or a face shield. They also must have specific protective equipment. Hartford HealthCare has designated isolation areas that would be used for Ebola patients. The areas include closed private rooms with private bathrooms. Everything needed for care would be dedicated to those rooms. No other patients would be in danger. In the United States, we have the luxury of being able to isolate patients and provide for their care – something not possible in Africa where patients are together in treatment units.

14. Will this be effective in containing the virus?
The CDC has found in Africa over the past 38 years that isolation works for Ebola. U.S. hospitals have done this with great success with other infectious diseases such as MRSA and CDiff. More than 20 Ebola outbreaks since 1976 in developing nations in Africa have been managed by the CDC, Doctors without Borders and local authorities with basic infection control, protective equipment and public health. A layered approach is used: early identification of patients, isolation of these individuals, supportive care, identification of their family and hospital contacts, and protection of the health care providers. People shouldn’t be afraid to go to a hospital if there has been a case of Ebola because they will be physically separated from and not have direct contact with that patient. Ebola is not airborne and requires direct contact. Hartford HealthCare has designated isolation areas that would be used for Ebola patients and will follow all CDC guidelines to keep other patients, family members, other health care workers and the community safe.

15. What about the people taking care of the patient?
Hartford HealthCare is prepared with personal protective equipment that includes gowns that fluids cannot get through, as well as eye protection, masks, gloves, and, when necessary, special shoe covers. Safety is one of our core values – for our patients, their families, our community members and one another.

16. Why are they wearing plastic suits and head hoods in Africa?
In Africa, one to two health care providers may be continuously caring for 50 to 100 known Ebola patients for hours at a time, without the luxury of changing personal protective equipment between patients or having access to the facilities we have in the United States. The repetitive removal of the protective gear also could increase their risk of contamination in the situation of long hours, low staffing and only basic environmental hygiene. Hartford HealthCare is well-equipped with personal protective equipment and is providing extensive training at our Center for Education, Simulation and Innovation on use of protective gear

17. How is a patient with Ebola cared for?
There are no drugs to treat Ebola, which is a virus, and antibiotics do not work against viruses. Supportive care is provided with fluids, electrolytes, blood-pressure support and blood products until the viral infection runs its course. 

There is a potential treatment that exists – an experimental serum that previously had been tested only on monkeys. Doses of the serum were administered to some patients recently, and while it is unclear so far whether or not the serum worked, initial reports suggest that the patients’ conditions did improve after treatment. The drug cocktail, called ZMapp, was developed by a San Diego company called Mapp Biopharmaceutical and manufactured in Kentucky. But very little of this drug is available. This treatment is similar to that used in the 1890-1940 period when antibiotics did not exist. Antiserums were used to treat common infections, such as pneumonia, with great success.

18. Is there a vaccine?
No, a vaccine is not available. Federal officials have said that they are fast-tracking development of an Ebola vaccine at the National Institutes of Health and other locations. The safety of a vaccine must be determined before it can be widely deployed, and it will not be available this year for the current situation in Africa. A vaccine would only prevent new cases, not help those infected with Ebola. A local company in Meriden, CT, also is helping with vaccine-development efforts.

19. Is there a cure?
There is no specific drug to cure Ebola but patients have recovered. There is a potential treatment that exists – an experimental serum that previously had been tested only on monkeys. Doses of the serum were administered to some patients recently, and while it is unclear so far whether or not the serum worked, initial reports suggest that the patients’ conditions did improve after treatment. The drug cocktail, called ZMapp, was developed by a San Diego company called Mapp Biopharmaceutical and manufactured in Kentucky. But very little of this drug is available. This treatment is similar to that used in the 1890-1940 period when antibiotics did not exist. Antiserums were used to treat common infections, such as pneumonia, with great success.

20. Should I be worried about Ebola?
Ebola doesn’t spread easily so it’s not easy to catch. The risk of contracting Ebola in the United States is low.

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