Public Health

How New York is Protecting Against the Latest Ebola Outbreak

3 Mins read

On October 23rd, the Ebola virus made its latest appearance in outbreak news in New York City, when Dr. Craig Spencer, a resident of Harlem, had returned on the 17th from treating infected patients in Guinea. He had taken the appropriate actions to keep himself and others safe by regulating his body temperature twice a day and, when he felt sluggish and developed a 100.3 fever, he swiftly sought medical attention and was isolated.

While the Doctors Without Borders participant was asymptomatic for the majority of his time in the Big Apple (and was most likely not contagious), Sal Pain, Chief Safety Officer for Bio-Recover Operation, and his crew have been working diligently to prohibit any spreading of the virus and qualm public fears. Dr. Spencer continues to be the only confirmed Ebola case in New York City and has undergone antiviral and blood-plasma therapies since his hospitalization. On November 3, the doctor’s condition was changed from “serious but stable” to “stable,” according to New York’s Health and Hospitals Corporation. As Ebola becomes an increasing reality for workers in numerous related fields, we take note of what the rest of the world can learn from these New York-based professionals.

What Actions Were Taken to Sterilize Environments

Pain and his crew have handled intense biological incidents similar to an Ebola outbreak, including the New York anthrax scare in 2001, and are well-trained and well-equipped. Given the nature of Dr. Spencer’s fifth-floor apartment and four-feet-wide hallways, the team forwent a typical Ebola decontamination station in favor of a more compact design using 6 millimeters of plastic and a PVC frame. High contact items such as bedding and personal hygiene products were removed from the apartment. The Ebola virus has a tendency to live longer in colder environments, so food was disposed of as well. The process took 12 hours and ended with chemical and water showers for all those involved before they headed back out into the city.

Although the doctor was said not to have a contagious stage of the disease while visiting The Gutter in Williamsburg, the bowling alley opted to close and undergo sterilization for the sake of safety. Outfitted in $1,500 protective suits, Pain’s employees put in seven straight hours of work overnight from October 25 to October 26 to painstakingly sterilize every object – from the interiors of bowling balls to the buttons of arcade games – within the venue. Various methods and tools were used in the decontamination process, including a thorough scrub-down of all surfaces and objects with rags and wire brushes doused in sanitizing products and chemical cleaners developed by the federal government for such disease control scenarios. The floors were cleaned with a solution containing 10 percent bleach, as recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

How Ebola Spreads

Although it is not clear as to how this virus originated, scientists believe that the first patient becomes infected through an animal such as a fruit bat or primate, which is referred to as a spillover event. When an infection is found in humans, the virus can spread through direct contact through bodily fluids (such as urine, saliva, vomit, semen, breast milk, sweat, etc.), needles and syringes, or infected fruit bats or primates. Although a patient who recovers from Ebola can no longer spread the virus, it has been shown to be found in semen for up to three months.

Ebola is not spread through water, air or legally purchased food. According to the CDC, there is no evidence that this decease can be spread through any other animals. For these reasons, healthcare providers are most susceptible to Ebola outbreaks. Wearing the appropriate Ebola protection equipment such as gloves, masks, safety suits and protection goggles is recommended when in an area where exposure to Ebola can occur.

Dedicated and disposable medical equipment should be used by healthcare providers. If instruments used are not able to be disposed, they should be thoroughly sterilized before being used again. Without these precautions and procedures in mind, the virus can continue to be transmitted.

Most of Dr. Spencer’s possessions remain intact, but the apartment will be sterilized and livable when the doctor and his fiancée return. Keeping Ebola under control in New York is the number one priority at the moment, and having a trustworthy and cautious crew like Pain’s is in order for every delicate situation.

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