Getting Logical About Ebola: A Practical Initial Response

So do we keep calm and carry on with no changes to our daily routines, or are there some things we can do, specific actions we can take, to help defend ourselves from Ebola?

At the outset I think we should all prepare, emotionally, inconvenience ourselves. We may need to do things we don’t want to do, and we may need to refrain from doing things we want to do. This situation obviously calls for heightened discipline. The facts on the ground today are materially different than yesterday.

Let’s just walk through a contamination situation. First, remember that ebola is a virus. It is spread from person to person like a virus. How do you avoid catching any virus? You keep the virus out of your body. How best to do that? Don’t share physical space with those who have, or may have, the virus. And there’s the inconvenience.

Should you get your own PPE suit and wear it any particular time? This is a completely impractical idea unless you are trained in how to put it on and how to take it off, and you have access to a decontamination area/chamber to wash down the suit as you take it off. For myself, I have latex gloves and duct tape, and not much else, simply because I think this is probably the outer limit of my capabilities. Figure out your limit and then decide for yourself whether you want to suffer whatever inconvenience your limit may cause for you.

So what I have concluded for myself, is that the practical, common sense actions I can take to prepare for Ebola include preparing to shelter in my house for an extended period of time, to isolate myself away from the public as Ebola makes its way around, IF it makes its way around. I have multiple LP gas tanks for grilling. I have a full cabinet of canned goods (Costco, baby), and meat (protein) in the freezer. I have some quantity of bottled water, although I don’t at the moment (Oct. 16, 2014) foresee losing my tap water supply to contamination, so it’s not much quantity. I do have many water filters for the tap water, but that’s mostly because I prefer to drink filtered water regardless of Ebola. I have a big stock of toiletries. And I have the ability to work from home.

So I monitor the news, and listen to medical science experts, to see if and when it may make common sense to begin reducing the amount of time I spend in public spaces. So far my biggest inconvenience was giving up going to the Texas State Fair this year, something I always look forward to. I just decided that with the flight Amber Vinson was on back to Dallas, that potential exposure introduced more risk into a State Fair trip than I was personally comfortable with. We all must make our own decisions about these sorts of things, and I fully expect yours to be different than mine. As we all learn more about this outbreak over time, I would expect to see our decisions begin to become more similar.

The second thing I am doing is making sure I know what to do if I ever thought I had contracted Ebola. At that point, my goal would be to avoid contaminating more people with the virus. This means I would recognize that I’d need to drive myself to the hospital. No more kisses for the wife until I know it’s safe. I’d understand that there’s a chance the health officials would quarantine the vehicle I drove to the doctor or hospital, and could destroy it (Texas law allows this). So I’d drive my least necessary vehicle.

The third thing I’m doing is making sure I know where to go. In situations such as this, Texas law gives government health officials the power to determine where cases are treated. For now, all Ebola cases in Dallas must go to Texas Health Presbyterian Dallas Hospital. If other areas experience Ebola cases, I’m pretty sure the health care professionals will let that area know where to go. If I were outside Dallas, I’d investigate the hospitals closest to me and I’d identify those with the best capability to deal with a potential Ebola case. Here’s how to do that.

As I understand it, the ideal treatment facility for Ebola is one with a Level 4 Bio-Safety Lab (BSL). And as I understand it, there are only 4 hospitals in the US with Level 4 BSLs: the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center (NIH), Bethesda, Maryland, has 3 beds; Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, has 10 beds; Emory Hospital, Atlanta has 3 beds; and St Patricks Hospital, Missoula, has 3 beds. That’s 19 Level 4 BSL beds for 317,000,000 people. And actually at the moment, Emory Hospital is down to only 1 remaining bed, and NIH is down to only 2 beds. If you live in these areas, this is where you should go. Otherwise, you’ve got some more digging to do.

Hospitals are also designated by levels of their trauma facilities. While viruses are not traumatic (think auto wrecks, broken bones, severe falls, burns, etc.), I personally feel I’d be more comfortable at a comprehensive Level I trauma center than I would at a basic trauma facility. You may be different. In Texas the Texas Dept. Of State Health Services maintains a list of designated trauma centers on their website at http://dshs.state.tx.us/emstraumasystems/etrahosp.shtm. So you can look up the ones around you and decide, in advance, where you would prefer to drive yourself if necessary. These designations, by the way, are set by each state and each state may be different.

And that is about the limit of my initial, practical preparations for a possible Ebola outbreak where I live. Prepare to isolate myself, stock up, and know where to go and what to do if I didn’t do it soon enough.

This is a continuing series of blog posts on the Ebola outbreak in the Dallas area. Please subscribe to this blog for notice of future posts.

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