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Harborview Medical Center volunteers to treat Ebola patients

SHORELINE, Wash. - Harborview Medical Center in Seattle said Monday it is willing to receive U.S. residents who are evacuated from West Africa for treatment of Ebola.

There are no patients with Ebola in Washington state and no plans to evacuate patients to the region soon, but local and state health officials said at a news conference that they're preparing in case there's such a need.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out a request last week to find hospitals that could treat U.S. health care workers and others who are infected with Ebola, and Harborview stepped up, officials said.

Dr. Timothy Dellit, the hospital's associate medical director, said accepting Ebola patients is consistent with its mission and role in serving the public in Seattle and the region.

"It will depend on the hospital's current capacity and our ability to maintain our critical functions," he said.

Plus, officials say, they have to be ready to deal with people who might think they have Ebola.

"Though we may not actually have a real Ebola case in our area, we will certainly have a number of false alarms and patients that need to be evaluated," said Dr. Jeff Duchin, chief communicable disease epidemiologist for Public Health-Seattle and King County.

Five Americans have returned from Africa to the U.S. for treatment since the start of the latest Ebola outbreak, which the World Health Organization estimates has killed more than 3,400 people. A Liberian man with Ebola who started showing symptoms while visiting the U.S. is in critical condition at a Dallas hospital.

Ebola doesn't spread easily like the flu, a cold or measles. The virus isn't airborne. It spreads through close contact with a symptomatic person's bodily fluids, such as blood, sweat, vomit, feces, urine, saliva or semen. Those fluids must have an entry point, like a cut or scrape or someone touching the nose, mouth or eyes with contaminated hands, or being splashed.

Harborview and others have safety precautions in place for health care workers and other patients if someone with Ebola is brought in for treatment, said Dr. Scott Lindquist, communicable disease epidemiologist for the state health department.

"I remain confident that the public health system is strong, and vigilant and will be able to handle any cases that may come our way," he said.

Local health agencies are discussing safety precautions with their medical providers, including asking patients whether the person traveled to an Ebola-infected country and reminding health workers about personal protective equipment such as gloves, Lindquist said.

The state's health officer, Kathy Lofy, also recently sent out a letter reminding medical providers of procedures and practices for Ebola and other infectious diseases, Lindquist said.

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