Although news reports of Ebola virus cases in the United States have been reduced to zero, the Houston Police Department remains alert and has a plan in place for handling any case that might break out.
Research in the wake of the few reported Ebola cases on American soil shows the risk factor to be – in the words of a Vanderbilt School of Medicine researcher – “essentially zero. ”
Dr. William Schaffner goes on to point out that Ebola is far less a death threat to the average American than “seasonal flu, which kills more than 35,000 Americans every year. ”
Last October there were two reported cases of the deadly disease contracted by medical personal on American soil. They picked it up from a victim from Liberia who died from it in a Dallas hospital. Both of these nurses fully recovered. That same month a doctor who treated patients in West Africa came down with the disease when he returned home to New York. He also recovered.
So recovery is quite possible with medical treatment in our country. Nevertheless, HPD is prepared for a dangerous “what if. ”
The Special Response Group (SRG), a unit headed by Lt. Randy Upton, was designated to respond to suspected Ebola cases. The SRG unit is part of the Special Operations Division of HPD.
Each HPD officer has his or her own personal protective equipment – a policy in effect since 9-Eleven – and must use individual judgment about how much of it to use in any reported case.
Lt. Upton said experience and research has clearly shown that exposure to the virus almost always happens when the protective equipment is improperly removed.
“If an officer is dispatched to a call involving a person suspected of having Ebola, ” Upton said, “he should put on the protective equipment.
“If the officer is already exposed then he should make note of possible exposure. We will then contact the city of Houston Health Department, which decides on whether there should be a quarantine.
“If the officer puts on the equipment, the Houston Fire Department Haz-Mat team will decontaminate the officer and remove the equipment. ”
Upton stressed that chances of exposure to Ebola greatly increase if the officer tries to remove the equipment by himself.
“What we have learned through cross contamination is that most people were contaminated when removing the equipment, ” Upton said. “The contamination occurs during improper removal of your personal protection equipment. HFD Haz-Mat is trained in the proper removal and decontamination of Ebola or whatever highly contagious disease is involved in the process.
“Officers need to know if they need to protect themselves it’s a judgment call based on the facts surrounding the case he or she is facing. Their equipment includes a face shield, gloves and gown. All officers have been issued the white Tyvek suit as well. ”
These protective safety suits come in disposable coveralls or jumpsuits used in accordance with the highest medical standards. They were commonly seen being worn by medical personnel involved in the treatment of Ebola cases in the United States last October.
There have been only two U. S. cases – both in a Dallas hospital – in which Americans became ill from exposure to an Ebola patient they were treating.
Upton believes the close federal monitoring of travelers from West African nations has curbed instances of suspected Ebola. West Africa has experienced a severe outbreak of Ebola, with the death toll past 10,000 and more than 22,500 people infected. The disease has had a huge impact on health workers, infecting 837 and killing 490, including many doctors and nurses.
Most of this information came to light beginning last October, “when the SRG was designated the unit that would be handling cases with responsibility for site security and quarantine in confirmed cases of Ebola, ” Upton explained. “Customs handles incoming possibilities. They screen before (passengers from Ebola-affected countries) get into the general population.
“I pray that they have gotten a hold of the situation and we won’t have any more cases on U. S. soil. ”
Symptoms of Ebola virus infection are similar to those produced by other hemorrhagic fever viruses and include:
- fatigue, malaise, and weakness,
- reddened eyes,
- joint and muscle pain,
- nausea and vomiting.