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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UNMC Faculty, Students Lead Study on U.S. Capacity for Treating Highly Infectious Diseases

The United States has sufficient capacity for treating another outbreak of the Ebola virus, but financial, staffing and resource challenges remain a hurdle for many hospitals and health systems attempting to maintain dedicated treatment centers for highly infectious diseases, according to new study released Dec 9.

[Photo: Dr. John Lowe]

The research was published online in Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology, the journal of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA). Researchers from UNMC led the study.

“In the past year, the United States saw an intense effort across the country to rapidly expand the capacity for high-level isolation patient care,” said Dr. John Lowe, a lead author of the study and assistant professor in the College of Public Health. “Our study shows an unprecedented increase in the number of high-level isolation beds across the country and found a variety of approaches to achieving this capability.”

Following the 2014 U.S. outbreak, which killed one patient and sickened two health care workers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) designated 55 sites to treat Ebola virus disease, including nine regional centers in major metropolitan areas, with total capacity of approximately 120 beds. UNMC/Nebraska Medicine was designated as one of the regional centers.

Prior to this, the vast majority of hospitals were inadequately prepared to care for patients with suspected or confirmed Ebola. Under the direction of the CDC, sites have expanded their capabilities, yet remain “limited” in overall capacity.

The study recommends further investigation of whether the U.S. has dedicated sufficient resources, proper staffing and training to manage a potential outbreak.

Researchers from UNMC, Harvard Medical School, Emory University, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, and Indiana University School of Public Health surveyed the capabilities and capacity of all 55 of the designated Ebola treatment centers and received responses from 47 or 85 percent. Other UNMC authors are College of Public Health students Ms. Jocelyn Herstein and Ms. Aurora Le, and faculty Dr. Philip Smith, and Dr. Angela Hewlett.

The researchers found that while the development of the centers heightened nationwide preparedness levels, challenges remained in providing the necessary treatment, and often strained an institution’s capacity, especially in key areas such as waste disposal, staffing and pediatric care.

“We have strengthened our nation’s ability to properly contain a highly unlikely outbreak of Ebola. However, the ability to treat outbreaks of other infectious viruses which are airborne, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), would be challenging,” Dr. Lowe said.

The journal is making the paper available for free through January 31 here.

The study’s findings included: