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Seattle's Harborview Agrees To Accept Evacuated U.S. Ebola Patients

Gabriel Spitzer
The Washington Dept. of Health lab in Shoreline is one of 13 cleared to test virus samples for Ebola.

Harborview Medical Center in Seattle has agreed to consider accepting Americans infected with Ebola who have been evacuated from Africa. It’s just the fifth hospital in the United States to do so.

UW Medicine, which operates Harborview, said the decision would be based on whether the hospital has capacity at the time. Dr. Timothy Dellit said the hospital’s normal infection controls and a heightened awareness of patients’ travel history will help minimize any risk to health workers or the public.

More broadly, state health officials said they’re working with hospitals and providers all over Washington to ensure they are ready for anyone who might walk through their doors with Ebola symptoms and any history of travel to affected countries or contact with infected people.

Jeff Duchin of Public Health – Seattle and King County said it’s only a matter of time until the state’s prevention measures are put to the test.

“Although we may not actually have a real Ebola case here in our area, we will certainly have a number of false alarms and patients that need to be evaluated,” he said.

He noted that missteps by health authorities in Dallas, Texas responding to the case of an infected man there have understandably raised people’s anxieties. But he said there is still little risk of the disease spreading widely here.

“The fact is that the transmission of Ebola can be stopped using simple measures, and an outbreak in the U.S. remains extremely unlikely,” he said.  

Officials say basic infection control practices and public health measures such as isolation and contract tracing significantly tamp down the risk of an outbreak. Furthermore, Ebola is not especially contagious – just one tenth as communicable as measles, Duchin noted.

The Washington Department of Health’s laboratory in Shoreline is also one of 13 nationwide approved to test virus samples for Ebola. The lab has not analyzed any samples yet.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.