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Texas' Infectious Disease Task Force Listens to Experts on Viruses like Ebola

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News
The Texas Task Force on Infectious Disease listened to testimony yesterday from experts in the state who know how viruses like Ebola could be handled in Texas.

The newly formed Texas Task Force on Infectious Disease listened to hours of testimony yesterday from experts in the state who know how viruses like Ebola could be handled in Texas.

In fact, that hearing has already yielded many lessons.

"Among those are the need for preparation in a broad sense," said Dr. Brett Giroir, the task force’s director. He also leads the Texas A&M Health Science Center. "This is really a team sport -- that we need to have the nurses the pharmacists the hospitals all together working together."

Already, the progress already made is unprecedented, Giroir says. Fewer than five days after the task force recommended specialized treatment centers, Gov. Rick Perry announced two – one in Galveston and one in Richardson.  

"I don’t know any recommendations in history that have been implemented so fast through [the Health and Human Services Commission]," he said.

Other improvements will take longer. More public health workers for instance, and he suggests the Legislature should give the local public health authority the power to quarantine someone in his or her home and make it enforceable by law enforcement immediately.

Dr. Ray Greenberg, the executive vice chancellor for health affairs at the University of Texas System, says hospitals are demanding more protective equipment, for instance.

"But it goes well beyond that," Greenberg says. "One of the big problems that we dealt with in Ebola are the waste materials that are produced."

Dr. David Lakey is the commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services and is on the task force. He says the series of events involving Ebola in Dallas could've happened anywhere.

"They were heroic to step up and take care of a patient with a really scary disease and did the best they could," he said. 

Moving forward, Lakey says one improvement for hospitals across the country is the guidelines for using the protective equipment. For example, skin can’t be exposed.

"If you have someone that’s really sick that has a lot of diarrhea, that’s vomiting or that you need to intubate, there are ways you could get exposed," Lakey added.

Experts also recommend a secure communications network for officials to share information urgently, and they urge state budget writers to consider how much all of this will cost.

The task force’s first report is due Dec. 1.

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