Ebola Hearings Miss Main Point, States Physicians for Civil Defense

Tucson, Ariz. In Oct 16 hearings before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, no one asked why the deadly Ebola virus is no longer being treated as a “level 4” threat.

Scientists who work with Ebola do it only in BSL-4 (biosafety level-4) laboratories, in which they are protected against breathing potentially contaminated air and have complete skin surface protection by means of an encapsulating “space suit.” Entry into a BSL-4 facility is only through an air lock. Before leaving a BSL-4 facility, the outside of the “space suit” is sprayed with a mist of decontamination solution for several minutes. All equipment that enters the BSL-4 area is sterilized with paraformaldehyde gas before it is removed. All other materials are bagged and immediately incinerated on site.

One researcher who had an accidental needlestick was immediately isolated in a BSL-4 medical facility called “the Slammer,” suitable for intensive care by practiced physicians and nurses from Walter Reed, wearing encapsulating suits. BSL-4 isolation is for 21 days as described by David Quammen in his book Spillover.

Hundreds of workers in Africa, and now two in the U.S., have caught the disease when using lower levels of protection. Yet the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) asserts that every hospital in the U.S. can be adequately prepared, and told a nurse who had been exposed that it was fine to take a commercial flight.

Some congressmen complained that the CDC did not have enough money. But none mentioned that the special military unit for transporting patients under BSL-4 level conditions, the Aeromedical Isolation and Special Medical Augmentation Response Team (AIT-SMART), which was created in 1978, was dismantled in 2010.

“Having seriously downgraded our response capability, U.S. government agencies are now pretending that the actual threat level is less,” stated Physicians for Civil Defense president Jane Orient, M.D. “Both our military and civilian population are at grave risk.”

Sending in a rapid response team from Atlanta is not a substitute for respirators, negative-pressure isolation rooms, and proper decontamination procedures, she noted. Neither are “tear sheets” instructing air travelers from epidemic areas to check their temperature.

“Official denial of the seriousness of the threat is reckless and irresponsible,” she stated. The disease is now killing 70 percent of its victims in Africa.

Physicians for Civil Defense has long advocated better preparedness for disasters, including natural epidemics and biological warfare.

‘Air Bridge’ for Ebola to U.S. Is Disastrous, States Physicians for Civil Defense

As Ebola cases continue to double every 3 weeks in West Africa, and 10,000 new cases per week are anticipated, the U.S. military is sending some 4,000 troops to help build hospital facilities with about 1,700 total beds. This is part of President Obama’s effort to build an “air bridge” to West Africa.

While at first it was stated that troops would not come into direct contact with Ebola victims, some will be working in mobile laboratory facilities.

Israel will send civilian aid, but declined to send troops, citing fears of bringing infection into Israel.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) claims that the disease can’t be transmitted by asymptomatic persons, that its protective protocols are adequate, and that the disease is not “airborne.”

So far, it is not known how the Dallas nurse caring for the index Ebola patient from Liberia became infected despite protective gear. The World Health Organization states that work with Ebola needs to be done in BSL-4 (biosafety level 4) containment facilities, with self-contained air for breathing and negative pressure to prevent escape of air from the isolation room. Very few hospitals are capable of these precautions.

What kind of protective gear will our troops be using? Doctors without Borders states that personal protective equipment is intolerable for more than 40 minutes.

Will troops be quarantined for 21 days in an Ebola-free location before returning to the U.S. and their families?

“The only sure way to prevent an Ebola epidemic is to keep potentially infected persons out of the area,” stated Physicians for Civil Defense president Jane M Orient, M.D. “We need to restrict entry via the ‘bridges’ we already have, not build additional ones.”

Physicians for Civil Defense has long advocated better preparedness for disasters, including natural epidemics and biological warfare.