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Georgia: Ground Zero in the Fight Against Ebola

Ebola. The deadly disease is on everyone's minds these days. West Africa is Ground Zero for the outbreak of Ebola and the epidemic that has followed. What may come as a surprise to some people is that Georgia, and specifically Atlanta, is Ground Zero for the fight against Ebola.

The reason that Atlanta is leading the effort to contain the highly infectious disease is that it is home to both the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Emory University Hospital. The CDC struggled in its initial response to the first Ebola case in the United States, Thomas Eric Duncan. The protocols in place in Dallas Presbyterian Hospital did not adequately protect the health care workers, and two of the staff taking care of Duncan were infected with the Ebola virus. Since then, the CDC implemented new strategies to deal with any new cases that arise in the United States. One of the new strategies is a rapid response team that is dispatched to the location of a suspected new case of Ebola; the team arrives within seventy-two hours, verifies the diagnosis, makes sure that the local health institution is capable of caring for the patient, provides proper personal protective equipment (PPE) if needed, and training on the equipment.

In fact, another new strategy implemented by the CDC involved changes to the safety protocols for PPE worn by health care workers tending to people infected with Ebola. The changes make the new guidelines consistent with those used by Doctors Without Borders, with the exception of the requirement of a chlorine spray just before removal of the PPE. This guideline would not be practicable in U.S. hospitals. The new protocols emphasize that no skin can be exposed; full head gear--including respirators--are now mandated, and trained staff oversee both the donning and doffing of the PPE.

Atlanta is also home to Emory University Hospital, which has successfully treated four Ebola patients; three have been discharged, and the remaining patient, Amber Vinson, has been declared free of the virus. Emory University Hospital is one of only four hospitals in the country that have specialized biocontainment units to treat the most dangerous infectious diseases. The National Institutes of Health Bethesda, where Nina Pham was treated is one, Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, and St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, Montana, are the others. Out of these four facilities, only Nebraska and Emory have treated Ebola patients, and only Emory has treated four people infected with the deadly virus.

Recently, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal put together an Ebola Response Team. The team consists of health, military, and emergency management officials, and representatives from health care facilities, including Emory University Hospital. One of the team's duties will be to monitor the people arriving in the state from regions where the Ebola epidemic is rampant. Although not placed in isolation, these travelers will be monitored for the twenty-one day incubation period and are required to report their temperature and any potential symptoms to state or local health officials daily.

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