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Get hospitals ready to ID and treat Ebola

A medical worker wears a protective suit inside

A medical worker wears a protective suit inside an isolation room equipped to handle people inflected with the Ebola virus at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York on Oct. 8, 2014. Photo Credit: EPA / Justin Lane

Now that a Dallas nurse and a second health care worker have become infected with Ebola on American soil, federal officials must rethink how future cases are handled.

Every hospital must be ready to identify -- and isolate -- potential Ebola patients who walk through their doors. That won't change. But public health officials should also designate a specific hospital in each area of the country to handle deadly infectious diseases.

Or better yet, Ebola patients should be moved to one of four hospitals nationally with containment units specially equipped to handle high-risk infectious diseases -- or to other key hospitals judged up to the task. New York City officials have chosen Bellevue Hospital Center for the job.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Tuesday that once an Ebola case is confirmed, a CDC team will be sent to assist.

State officials should also designate specific hospitals to receive potential patients. That would reduce the risk of infection for people such as Dallas nurse Nina Pham -- diagnosed with the virus after treating Thomas Eric Duncan, who died last week. Officials don't know how Pham got infected, but suspect a procedural slip-up.

To prevent more cases, only the best-equipped hospitals with the best-trained staff should treat Ebola patients.

As the disease progresses, the concentration of the virus in a patient's bodily fluids soars dramatically. And a patient can discharge five to 10 liters of fluid a day via diarrhea and vomiting, increasing the risk of exposure.

The protocol for donning and removing gowns, masks, gloves and other gear must be followed meticulously. A lack of training and expertise can be deadly.

But controlling the spread of Ebola here isn't enough. Ending the epidemic in West Africa, where 4,033 people have died, is the only way to ensure people in this country will be safe. President Barack Obama should energize the urgent international effort to provide resources necessary to control the outbreaks in West Africa.

Private contributions help. But it will take more resources from governments to control the epidemic. Until that happens, officials here must minimize the risk.

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