Fears Australia isn’t ready for Ebola

Written By komlim puldel on Kamis, 16 Oktober 2014 | 20.01

US authorities are trying to track people who flew on the same plane as a woman who was infected with Ebola.

Questions raised ... Red Cross workers fight Ebola in Monrovia as health officials want Australia to be prepared to fight the deadly virus. Source: AP

SERIOUS questions are being asked about Australia's ability to fight an Ebola outbreak as the United Nations warns the world has just 60 days to control the epidemic.

Australia has only five isolation pods for transporting Ebola victims, some small regional hospitals don't have the protective clothing needed to cope with a case and the government has not briefed health leaders on our preparedness.

Health officials are today reviewing national guidelines for managing Ebola after the US Centres for Disease Control announced it was revewing its protocals after two nurses in the United States were infected while treating Ebola patients.

Australia's Ebola protocols are based on those developed by the US CDC which were called into question when two nurses contracted the virus while teating an Ebola patient in a Texas hospital.

The CDC has radically changed those guidelines in the wake of these infections to recommend health workers now fully cover their bodies in fluid overalls to protect themselves from the virus.

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Overhauling protocols ... Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Lisa Monaco, and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell, listen as President Barack Obama speaks to the media about Ebola. Picture: AP Source: AP

They must wear goggles or face shields, rubber aprons, two sets of gloves and learn to disrobe in a set fashion, washing their hands with disinfectant in the presence of another health worker who checks if they may have accidentally infected themselves while disrobing. as they do

The new CDC guidelines are closer to the procedures Medecins Sans Frontieres uses when fighting the disease in West Africa.

A health worker ... sits at NGO's Medecins Sans Frontieres Ebola treatment center inside the Samuel K. Doe stadium in Monrovia. Picture: AP Source: AFP

And the Queensland Government has decided that all health workers returning from working on Ebola in West Africa must remain in Brisbane, close to testing facilities, while they wait out their 21 day quarantine period.

Fears that Ebola could spread come after the United Nations warned the world it has just 60 days to get Ebola under control, or face an "unprecedented situation for which we don't have a plan".

As a second health care worker in the United States tested positive for the virus the World Health Organisation, says Ebola is now killing 70 per cent of its victims.

Disease spreads ... an ambulance carrying Amber Joy Vinson, the second health care worker to be diagnosed with Ebola, in Texas. Picture: AP Source: AP

With experts predicting there will be ten thousand people a week contracting the virus within two months Australian Medical Association president Professor Brian Owler called for Prime Minister Tony Abbott to show the same leadership as US President Obama and brief doctors on our preparedness.

"We do have concerns about the preparedness of Australia," Professor Owler said.

"We were confident we had the systems in place in first world countries to handle an outbreak but now two health workers are affected and people on a plane were exposed, that demonstrates to me we can't be complacent," he said.

Meeting doctors ... Health Minister Peter Dutton visits Royal Brisbane Hospital to discuss our preparedness to deal with Ebola. He inspected an isolation room. Picture: Lyndon Mechielsen Source: News Corp Australia

The call came as it emerged Australia's defence force does not have a single isolation unit it can fit to a plane to transport a person infected with Ebola to a major hospital for treatment.

State governments only purchased the pods in the last few weeks have raised questions about Australia's preparedness for a bioterrorist attack or infectious disease outbreak.

Until recently Western Australia was the only state with an isolation unit.

When Queensland requested to use it to transport an aid worker in Cairns who was thought to have Ebola the jet was "offline", a spokesman for Laurence Springborg said.

Queensland has since obtained its own isolation pod and has more on order but the global waiting list is long.

"There's a big rush on, health authorities all over the world are getting isopods and there is quite a waiting list," he said.

Suiting up ... Dallas Fire-Rescue Haz Mat unit prepare to decontaminate areas near the apartment of a second US healthcare worker who has tested positive for Ebola in Dallas. Picture: AFP Source: AFP

NSW chief Health Officer Kerry Chant says the state recently obtained two isolation pods that can be used in aircraft.

Victoria is a smaller state and air transport may not be needed, it does not have any of these pods neither does South Australia.

The $20,000 isolation pods contain a stretcher surrounded by sealed, clear plastic are under negative air pressure and have glove holes so health workers can tend to the patients.

It has also emerged that while major city hospitals and some regional base hospitals have the complex personal protective gear that health workers need to protect themselves from the virus, some smaller hospitals don't.

"All the reporting hospitals, thirty of them have the gear but below that I'd say not," a spokesman for Health Minister Laurence Springborg said.

A spokesman for Victoria's Health department said small country hospitals in that state would have "adequate" personal protective gear.

"Remember they wouldn't be treating patients with Ebola, those patients would be treated at the Royal Melbourne," he said.

In NSW a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health said every hospital in that state had the protective gear and there were two suits in every ambulance.

The training of hospital cleaners has also emerged as an issue with waste being piled high to the ceiling when Ebola patients Thomas Duncan was treated in a Texas hospital.

"Cleaners in the hospital need to know the right procedures to clean the room and how they are going to be protected, how they'll respond in terms of waste management," Professor Owler said.

A hazmat worker places an item into one of the waste barrels in Texas at the apartment of a nurse diagnosed with EbolaMike Stone/Getty Images/AFP Source: AFP

He said having the right protective gear was not enough and nurses needed drills in putting it on and taking it off to make sure there are no breaches of protocol.

Nurses at Westmead Hospital in NSW have undergone two training sessions so far.

Queensland has also activated its State Health Emergency Co-ordination Centre as it primed itself to deal with any possible Ebola outbreak.

A communicable disease management team was formed to co-ordinate the reponse to any Ebola case.

All the workers involved in that team have been centralised on the same office floor in the Health Department and the office will be staffed seven days a week during office hours and after hours calls are being monitored.

The Australian Government has devised a comprehensive Ebola plan which is has published on its website.

If a patient with Ebola presents in Australia they should be immediately placed in a single pressurised room with its own air conditioning and toilet, those treating them must put of full protective gear and state and federal health authorities must be alerted.

A blood test must be done to confirm the infection at it must be carried out in accordance with standards for testing high risk specimens.

Staff treating the patient must wear a fluid repellent surgical mask, a disposable fluid resistant gown, gloves, eye protection and need a higher level of protection for some procedures.

Once the Ebola infection is confirmed the patient will be transferred to one of 14 hospitals around the country designated to deal with Ebola.

These include the Westmead Hospital and Westmead Children's Hospital in NSW, Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital, Gold Coast University Hospital, Cairns Hospital in Queensland, Royal Adelaide Hospital and Women's and Children's Hospital in South Australia, Royal Melbourne Hospital and the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne in Victoria, The Royal Hobart Hospital in Tasmania.

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