Chicago-area hospitals, paramedics update training amid Ebola outbreak

SCHAUMBURG, Ill. (WLS) -- When Dallas patient Thomas Eric Duncan was first identified, it was the paramedics who alerted the hospital they had a possible Ebola victim in-route. By the time he arrived, the medical staff was ready to contain him.

With over 80 trained paramedics, the Schaumburg Fire Department has one of the largest suburban emergency response teams in the area. EMS Coordinator Steve Johnson says identification starts with taking a proper patient history.

"Patient history, signs and symptoms we would see," Johnson said. "And of course, where have you been? Have you been travelling outside of the country?"

And while all their EMS techs are trained to identify patients with communicable diseases, Johnson says the Ebola outbreak has led to updated information and protocols being distributed to them just in the last few weeks.

"We have personal protection suits that we do use, we would also do the same for the patient and then notify the hospital and make sure they have a quarantine area there at that time," he said.

At Naperville's Edward Hospital they are also updating their medical staff on containment procedures specific to Ebola. Infection Control Manager Mary Anderson has been in charge of that.

"We have done a lot of work and provided a lot of information to our frontline staff, especially to our ER staff so they are ready and can recognize a suspected case of Ebola if they see it," Anderson said.

While the odds of it happening are extremely low, they still have to be ready. If a person suspected of having Ebola were to come to Edward Hospital, Anderson says they'd be put into a CDC-approved isolation room. The negative air pressure here keeps any contaminants from escaping.

While Ebola is not airborne, it's an added precaution to keep the disease from finding a way to spread.

"Hospitals practice isolation precautions and infection strategies all the time, so it's not something we're not familiar with," Anderson said. "It's just that the stakes are much higher with this disease."

Doctors insist that Ebola can only be transmitted once the patient is showing symptoms and that immediate family and medical staff are most at-risk for contracting the disease.
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