The two nurses who contracted Ebola in Dallas were transferred this week to two of the four highly specialized hospital centers in the U.S. that are designed to treat the disease, suggesting that health officials may have doubts about the ability of local hospitals to handle such patients.
The problem: These four specially equipped biocontainment facilities — in Nebraska, Montana, Maryland and Georgia — have the combined capacity to treat fewer than a dozen Ebola patients at one time
The limited number of beds isn’t unusual for hospitals that treat rare diseases, and a widespread Ebola outbreak in America is extremely unlikely. But if the U.S. is forced to handle more than a dozen Ebola cases — either because the disease spreads further within the country, or more Americans become ill abroad and are brought to the U.S. for treatment — the burden will once again fall to the broader, inadequately trained American health system.
The four specialized hospitals have a perfect track record so far this year. None of the Ebola patients in their care have died, and unlike in Dallas, there has been no person-to-person transmission of the virus within the facilities.
They were designed to treat patients with some of the most dangerous pathogens on the planet. These include Ebola virus disease and other viral hemorrhagic fevers, as well as SARS, smallpox, tularemia, plague and multi-drug resistant tuberculosis.