What unfolded at Texas Presbyterian Hospital Dallas after the first Ebola case in the country was diagnosed there would have likely happened at any hospital in the U.S., William Sutker, MD, medical director of infectious disease and epidemiology for the Baylor Scott & White Health — North Texas division, said on Wednesday night.
Dr. Sutker was one of several members of a panel comprised of medical experts and local leaders at a forum put on by The Dallas Morning News the University of Texas at Dallas on Wednesday night. The “Vital Lessons” event also featured Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, Dallas ISD Superintendent Mike Miles, Texas Health Presbyterian Chief Clinical Officer Dan Varga, MD, and Cedric Spak, MD, an epidemiologist and infectious disease specialist on the medical staff at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas.
Dr. Sutker said preparations at BSWH were underway for possible Ebola cases even before Thomas Eric Duncan was diagnosed with the deadly disease at Presbyterian Dallas in late September. Duncan died on October 8.
“All of us were preparing as much as we felt that we could,” he said. “Just as Presbyterian went through it, I think something similar to that likely would have happened at almost any hospital in the country.”
Dr. Varga said his hospital system is trying to be as transparent as possible about what happened, while also making sure to protect patient privacy. He said it is still unclear exactly how and when two nurses who treated Duncan contracted Ebola. They have both since recovered.
“We’re not really holding anything back,” Dr. Varga said. “We really believe that we should be as transparent as we can around what we’ve learned about this.”
Although some specifics of the Presbyterian Dallas experience treating Ebola have yet to be released, Dr. Sutker said the hospital’s work has helped teach the broader medical community.
“All of us have already learned from that case,” Dr. Sutker said. “What you saw was a lot of revisions, new policies and procedures and guidance published by [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], which were modified and/or written as a result of the experience they were having at Presbyterian.”
For Dr. Spak, infectious disease outbreaks in general are difficult to predict. It’s important to continue to use the science to learn from them and plan for the next one.
“These outbreaks continue to teach us, whether it was HIV, Hepatitis C, West Nile or the ones that have occurred over the last year,” Dr. Spak said. “These outbreaks will continue to surprise us in unexpected ways.”