Division of Infectious Diseases

Are we ready for an outbreak?

It has been said that ‘an outbreak anywhere is a risk everywhere’.   At any given time, there are multiple concurrent outbreaks of highly hazardous communicable diseases, and the ease of global travel creates the risk of rapid spread of diseases around the world.  The Nebraska Biocontainment Unit (NBU) closely and continuously monitors these outbreaks, since the NBU could be called upon to care for patients who are infected with diseases like Ebola and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV).

The current outbreak of Ebola is located in the Northeast part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), close to the borders of Rwanda and Uganda. This area is a known conflict zone, with significant cross-border movement.  As of September 2, there were 118 people with confirmed or suspected Ebola virus disease, and 77 deaths.  Contact tracing and vaccination efforts are underway, and experimental therapeutic agents have been administered in an attempt to control the outbreak.   This is the 10th Ebola outbreak in the DRC.

There is also an ongoing outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in the Arabian Peninsula.  Although most cases have occurred in Saudi Arabia, multiple other countries have been affected.  Imported cases have also occurred, including a single traveler arriving in South Korea that resulted in 186 secondary cases.  Most recently, an ill traveler presented for care in the United Kingdom and was found to be infected with MERS-CoV.

These outbreaks are only a small sample of the infectious diseases that are occurring in the world today.  The Nebraska Biocontainment Unit maintains the highest degree of preparedness, including ongoing staff training, drills and exercises.  NBU team members are continually leading and participating in the training and education of other healthcare centers in the United States and around the world.  If we receive the call to care for patients with highly hazardous communicable diseases, we are ready.

Content courtesy Dr. Angela Hewlett, Director of the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit

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