October 24, 2014

U-I doctor: only 4 hospitals in U.S. have biocontainment units for Ebola patients

university-of-iowa-hospitalHospital staffs across Iowa are preparing to handle Ebola patients, should the need arise. At the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, infectious diseases professor Dr. Michael Edmond says there are only four biocontainment units in the United States, so other hospitals must be prepared.

“We could handle Ebola patients,” Dr. Edmond says. “We do not have a specific biocontainment unit of the sort that is located at the University of Nebraska, Emory University or the National Institutes of Health.”

The closest biocontainment unit, at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, is now caring for its second Ebola patient. That facility has ten beds in its specialized unit and it’s the largest one in the country. “The number of those beds in the United States is very limited and if we exceed the capacity of those, other hospitals may be called on to provide this type of care,” Edmond says.

He says hundreds of University of Iowa staff are being trained to handle patients with the potentially-deadly virus. “It’s affecting the personnel who would see these patients,” Edmond says. “This would be our health care providers in the emergency department where patients are most likely to present first and the unit of the hospital, inside the hospital, where patients who are suspect or are confirmed to have Ebola would be housed once they’re admitted to the hospital.”

Edmond, who serves as the University Hospitals’ chief quality officer, says the Iowa City facility has all of the protective equipment that’s specified now. “The problem is that this is a moving target,” he says. “CDC will be, in short order, revising some of the protocols for personal protective equipment and we will have to redo our training to be in line with those protocols.”

Ebola is blamed in more than 4,000 deaths during the latest outbreak in West Africa. Edmond made his comments on the Iowa Public Radio’s program “River to River.”

U.S. Rep. King says congress should return, address Ebola concerns (AUDIO)

Representative Steve King.

Representative Steve King.

Republican Congressman Steve King says it’s time to reconvene congress in emergency session to address a variety of concerns raised by the Ebola cases that have been diagnosed on U.S. soil.

“America needs to get a grip on this,” King told Radio Iowa. “Congress needs to get a grip on this and work with and give direction to the president of the United States.”

Priority one for King is a ban on flights into the U.S. from the west Africa.

“We have about 150 people a day coming from the Ebola regions, particularly Liberia, and we need to stop all of those flights,” King said. “None of them are worth spreading Ebola around the United States and we’ve seen how easily that can happen.”

AUDIO of King’s comments on Ebola during a Radio Iowa interview, 3:30

If there’s no travel ban, and the Obama Administration resists the idea, King said airline passengers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea who have a “legal right” to enter the U.S. should be placed under mandatory quarantine once they arrive.

“We know that they can travel and be a carrier,” King said.

A nurse who cared for the Ebola patient who died at a Dallas hospital and who now has tested positive for the deadly virus flew from Cleveland to Dallas after notifying the Centers for Disease Control that she had a low-grade fever just under 100. King said the Transportation Security Administration should develop a “no-fly” list for U.S. airports and put health care workers and others who come into contact with Ebola patients on it.

“The director of the (Centers for Disease Control), Tom Frieden, needs to step down,” King said. “He’s lost the credibility that he had that came with the title of his job, but he’s been wrong almost every time he’s stepped up and made a public statement…It looks like everything that we get from the government on Ebola has to first go through the White House’s political filter before it can be delivered to the American people.”

King is also questioning the U.S. military operation now underway in Africa, where American troops are building hospitals to care for Ebola patients. The president has just signed an executive order to call up national guard and reserve troops for the effort.

“Only volunteers should go to a place like that, not be ordered into the unknown, unseen killer of Ebola,” King said. “And our medical teams, to the extent that they go and they do — God bless them for doing that — but I would say slow down for 21 days in quarantine before you come out into the broader society when you come home.”

King said it’s time for congress “to bring everything out in the open” and have a debate on the House floor about this “life or death disease.”

“This should not be a partisan issue,” King said. “It shouldn’t be politics. We shouldn’t have the sense that this is a political equation for anybody in this, but it looks like they may prepare to tell us the truth after the election.”

The Centers for Disease Control argues a ban on flights into the U.S. from west Africa might encourage residents there to find another way into the U.S., undermining the screening set up at U.S. airports for flights from west Africa and making it more difficult to identify travelers with Ebola symptoms. Obama Administration officials say the monitoring set up at five American airports should screen 94 percent of travelers from west Africa.

Understudy to Norman Borlaug will accept the World Food Prize

Norman Borlaug with Sanjaya Rajaram working in a field in Mexico.

Norman Borlaug with Sanjaya Rajaram working in a field in Mexico.

The 2014 World Food Prize will be awarded tonight to plant scientist Sanjaya Rajaram with a ceremony at the Iowa State Capitol. The 71-year-old Rajaram is a protégé of World Food Prize founder, Norman Borlaug.

“I describe Dr.Borlaug as not only a great scientist and agricultural leader, but also he was an exemplary plant breeder for us because…he was not only the director of the program, he was on the front line doing (work) himself,” Rajaram said. As a post-doctoral student, Rajaram worked with Borlaug in Mexico as he created disease-resistant strains of wheat which improved food security worldwide.

Rajaram remembers Borlaug as a “hard taskmaster” who worked long hours. “One thing I learned from him was that he was a highly determined person. He was not easy to give up. I mean, we would not always succeed and he’d keep insisting,” Rajaram said.

Borlaug, who died in 2010 at the age of 95, called Rajaram “the greatest present-day wheat scientist in the world.” Rajaram succeeded Borlaug as director of the wheat breeding program at CIMMYT. He’s credited with breeding 480 wheat varieties used in more than 50 countries.

Rajaram, who grew up in India, made his comments on the Iowa Public Radio program “River to River.” The World Food Prize Laureate Award Ceremony will be broadcast live on Iowa Public Television at 7 p.m. and will be preceded by a documentary about Borlaug at 6:30 p.m.

Photo courtesy of the World Food Prize.



Marshalltown foot doctor closes clinics, surrenders license

A Marshalltown foot doctor has closed his two clinics and surrendered his podiatry license.

Dr. Timothy Smith was accused of accepting a portion of his patients’ prescribed pain medication to cover their co-payments for treatment at his clinics. On August 11, Smith had to be resuscitated at a Marshalltown hospital after an overdose of Oxycodone. On August 21, state officials declared Smith an “immediate danger to the public” and suspended his license.

His clinics in Newton and Marshalltown have closed. In an agreement with the Iowa Board of Podiatry, Smith denied the charges, but waived his right to a hearing and agreed to give up his license.

West African leaders discuss Ebola at World Food Prize event

World Food Prize baners hanging at the State Capitol.

Leaders of a pair of West African countries, visiting Iowa for the World Food Prize events, say the Ebola crisis has not only taken thousands of lives, it’s also threatening to destroy their economies. Florence Chenoweth is the Minister of Agriculture in Liberia. She says most people in West Africa were not aware of the virus in the first critical months of the outbreak and many refused treatment.

“People are just now beginning to understand that (Ebola) is real and it kills,” Chenoweth said. Around 4,000 people have died in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, the countries hardest hit by the disease. Joseph Sam Sesay is the Minister of Agriculture in Sierra Leone, which boasted one of the three fastest growing economies in the world before the Ebola crisis.

“Today, instead of a projected 11.3 percent annual economic growth rate for 2014, we later deflated that to 7 and today, we’re only anticipating something like three-percent,” Sesay said. Around two-thirds of the people in Sierra Leone are farmers with small operations and most are very poor.

The Ebola outbreak has exacerbated their struggles, according to Sesay, as neighboring countries are closing their borders and suspending trade. “Isolating the countries Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone has a more devastating effect,” Sesay said. “We are talking about the movement of goods and people, some of these are humanitarian.”

At a World Food Prize news conference in Des Moines Wednesday, Sesay made a direct appeal for U.S. agencies to further help his country. “The best, for me, is to fight the war where the war is and not to wait until it comes here,” Sesay said. “Please, we are appealing to you to really support us so we can stop this.”

Agencies in the U.S. have committed more than $400 million to efforts to fight Ebola and the U.S. Department of Defense is expected to provide another $1 billion in assistance. In recent weeks, an Iowa-based relief agency has sent 600,000 prepackaged meals to Liberia. Outreach Incorporated has a goal of providing one million meals to the country by the end of the year.


World Food Prize event discusses impact of meat consumption

Nat'l-Geo-FoodThe growing global demand for meat was one of the issues discussed Tuesday at the World Food Prize event in Des Moines.

Dennis Dimick, Executive Environment Editor at National Geographic magazine, addressed a gathering of more than 600 Iowans and talked about the publication’s special series on “The Future of Food.”

Dimick says many experts question whether increasing meat consumption in developing countries is a good thing. They cite human health and environmental issues.

“How much meat is really necessary for a healthy diet? We know the more (meat) we eat, the more pressure there is on water, land, and energy resources,” Dimick said.

Craig Hill, president of Iowa Farm Bureau, defends the trend. He believes moderation in meat consumption is the key and adds the livestock industry will continue to improve feed conversion and its environmental footprint.

“We’ll have to learn to become more efficient, we’ll have to be better stewards, and we’re learning as we go,” Hill said. “All diets should include some type of high value protein like we have in our meats.”

The discussion was part of the eighth annual Iowa Hunger Summit, organized by the World Food Prize, which continues today in downtown Des Moines. World Food Prize officials report more than 1,300 people from 60 countries are in attendance.




First cases of flu are a strain that could signal tough season

State Medical Director Patricia Quinlisk (filed photo)

State Medical Director Patricia Quinlisk (filed photo)

The medical director at the Iowa Department of Public Health says tests at the State Hygienic Laboratory have confirmed three cases of flu in the state.

Doctor Patty Quinlisk says the confirmed cases are in Henry, Johnson and Polk counties. “When we see three cases all at once happening in three different places, it means that there’s probably a bit already going around in our communities. And it just helps to remind all of us that we need to go in and get our flu shots pretty quickly, so that we can be protected in case we come across the flu virus in the next couple of weeks,” Quinlisk says.

She says the sooner you get the vaccine the quicker you are protected. “As soon as you get vaccinated your immune system will start to respond to it — so you will start making some protection immediately,” according to Quinlisk. “Probably to get full protection, it may take a week to two weeks, depending on your immune system and how fast you respond and how many times you’ve been vaccinated in the past, and things like that.”

Quinlisk says the tests from the early flu cases are another reason you’ll want to be protected. “The virus that we’ve seen in these three cases is an influenza ‘A.’ And the reason why that is important for us to know is that when we see an ‘A’ strain, usually that means people tend to get sicker, they are sick longer and they are more likely to go on to complications than if they are exposed to a ‘B’ type strain,” Quinlisk explains. “Unfortunately that may mean we are going to have a more serious flu season than we’ve had in some of our past years.”

While people have been watching the Ebola outbreak unfold, Dr. Quinlisk says everyone needs to focus on what’s happening here and now. “You know, Ebola is a very, very, serious scary disease and certainly I understand why people are concerned about it. But the thing to remember is we do not have any Ebola in Iowa, and to be honest, it would unlikely for us to get anybody with Ebola in Iowa — not impossible — but unlikely,” Quinlisk says.

The flu is here every year and Quinlisk says there’s no disputing that it poses a health risk. “We know that tens of thousands — if not hundreds of thousands of Iowans — are going to get sick from the flu. And we know probably somewhere around a thousand people are going to die from the flu and some of its complications like pneumonia. That we know, so that’s a known risk and know types of numbers,” Quinlisk says. “But, the good news is there’s a vaccine, there’s something we can do about the flu.”

She says if you don’t like shots, some people can get the flu vaccine in a mist. Either way, she says you should get vaccinated. “Let’s do what we can about the risks we do know will come and we can do something about, and let’s just hope that Ebola does not come to Iowa, “Quinlisk says.

Quinlisk says you should contact your health care provider or local health department to find out where the vaccine is available in your community or use the Flu Vaccine Finder at www.flu.gov.