Georgia county threatened to cut off hospital sewer lines over Ebola, doctor says
DeKalb County in Georgia threatened to cut the sewer lines to Emory University because the hospital was caring for Ebola patients, a doctor revealed recently.
Speaking at the Infectious Disease (ID) Conference last week in Philadelphia, infectious disease expert Dr. Bruce Ribner recalled some of the shocking challenges officials had to deal with after two Ebola patients were brought to Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital in August.
According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Ribner explained how doctors utilized a containment unit that the Centers for Disease Control built at Emory 12 years ago, which was intended to deal with situations like the two “high-intensity” Ebola patients who were losing up to 2 1/2 gallons of fluid per day.
But apparently DeKalb County did not have faith in the CDC precautions because Dr. Ribner said that officials threatened to cut the sewer lines if the hospital tried to dispose of any Ebola-tainted waste.
The Wall Street Journal reported that DeKalb County made the threat “despite guidance from the CDC that sanitary sewers can safely accommodate patient waste.”
In the end, the hospital was forced to sanitize all toilet waste with bleach for five minutes before flushing it down the sewer.
And although the CDC advised that sheets could be sealed in leak-proof containers and disposed of along with other “regulated medical waste,” the company hauling trash to the incinerator refused to take the material until it was sterilized.
Ribner tied the panic, which he said was unwarranted, to media coverage of the story.
“This is not a very difficult infection to eradicate in the environment if you have decent cleanup,” Ribner noted.
But apparently local pizza-delivery services did not get the message because they “refused to come to the hospital at night,” Ribner said.
For its part, a spokesperson for the DeKalb County Department of Watershed Management told The Wall Street Journal that there was never a threat to cut the sewer lines.
“At no point did we say we would disconnect the hospital from public sewage lines,” the spokesperson insisted. “Early on, there was a preliminary call between our watershed director and the CDC regarding protocols for planning and community-awareness purposes.”
Watch a video below of Dr. Ribner talking about lessons learned from treating Ebola patients via Helio.