Sooner or later, a patient with a deadly virus will be brought to the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. What should islanders think?
First, let’s get clear about what likely would happen.
As researchers at the Galveston National Laboratory like to say, it’s not going to be news when Ebola arrives on the island. That was news 10 years ago, when the lab opened on the campus of the medical branch. The Ebola virus and many other deadly pathogens have been under study here as a matter of routine. There have been no infections.
To get certified for this kind of research, the national lab had to have provisions for a worst-case scenario. What if researchers were infected? Provisions have been in place for years for providing care for occupational cases.
You can’t really provide care in the kind of protective space suits that researchers wear. How would you do it?
You would limit access to a few doctors and nurses to minimize the risk of spreading the disease. Those caregivers would have impermeable suits with gloves and masks that are tight fitting. The care would be provided in secure, isolated spaces.
The medical branch has space available for those occupational cases — and it has five other rooms in another building available for clinical cases.
Those rooms are sealed off and were designed for cases where the risk of contagion is extremely high.
The most valuable part of this infrastructure is the human infrastructure.
The campus is the home of the National Biocontainment Training Center. People across the nation come the island to learn the protocols and procedures. This is the place that trains the trainers.
On Friday, there were no plans to bring Ebola patients to the University of Texas Medical Branch. But if the folks at the medical branch had to provide care, they could. And those of us who are their neighbors could be confident that the disease would be contained.
Consider the alternative. What would happen if a person with such a disease showed up at a community hospital in rural Texas and stayed there?
The person might be cared for by good-hearted but ill-prepared people. Health care workers might get infected, and the disease might spread, just as Ebola spread in West Africa.
What’s to stop that from happening in Texas?
The best defense is to get infected people to places like the University of Texas Medical Branch — places that have folks with the expertise to do the job.
The rest of us ought to support them and let them do their jobs.