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UTMB Prepares To Treat Possible Future Ebola Patients

Workers have trained for years on safety gear and incinerating medical waste


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Dr David Callender
Dr. David Callender, president of University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.


The University of Texas Medical Branch is in discussions with state health officials about receiving future Ebola patients at the hospital in Galveston.

UTMB is not currently treating anyone suspected of having Ebola. But the president, Dr. David Callender, said Texas health agencies have asked the institution to be ready.

Callender says there are three isolation rooms set up and 28 nurses have already volunteered for bedside duty.

“UTMB clinics have an adequate supply of personal protective equipment and workers have been trained in the proper way to don and remove, or doff, the special medical gear,” Callender said. “UTMB is highly experienced in safely destroying medical waste.”

Callender says UTMB has the only licensed medical incinerator in the state of Texas that can handle the large waste drums that have been packed with soiled gowns, gloves and other items that might have been exposed to the virus.

“The incineration process involves taking the drums, which essentially are very thick cardboard and sealed with a steel band, and placing them into an incinerator and heating immediately — as soon as that drum is pushed into the incinerator — heating that drum to 1,500 degrees, which immediately incinerates it, reduces it to ash, and destroys it,” Callender said with a decisive snap of his fingers.

UTMB is prepared because there is already a level 4 biocontainment research lab on the UTMB campus. Ebola is securely stored in the lab, along with other pathogens, and scientists there study it and even test possible treatments on monkeys called macaques.

The nearby hospital has been practicing medical drills for years just in case a scientist gets accidentally infected with Ebola — which has never happened.

Tom Ksiazek is a UTMB virologist — he just returned from six weeks in Sierra Leone, leading CDC efforts to fight Ebola.

 Ksiazek says he’s surprised at the level of hysteria among Americans here.

 “I can’t help but personally feel there is a lot of overreaction. I’m not sure what the source of the information that leads people to be so fearful,” he said.

Scientists at UTMB also say they don’t support a travel ban from West Africa, like the one suggested by Governor Rick Perry.

They say travelers could lie instead of cooperating with investigators trying to trace and contain the virus.



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