Emory University
Bookmark and Share

Isolated No More

Taking on Ebola and other infectious diseases
Story Photo

Photography by Stephen Nowland

Nearly five years after housing its first Ebola patient, the Serious Communicable Diseases Unit (SCDU) in Emory University Hospital continues to be of keen interest.

Four patients with Ebola virus disease were successfully treated in the SCDU by a highly trained Emory Healthcare team in 2014. Since, more than 60 groups—including infectious disease and public health experts, scientists, military and government officials, ministers of health, and students—have toured the high-level isolation unit.

Mutumbo trying on a powered air purifying respirator.

In January, NBA Hall of Famer and philanthropist Dikembe Mutombo, a Congolese American who built a hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), toured the unit. The current Ebola outbreak in the DRC has infected more than 1,100 people and killed about 750. “I am delighted to see this facility I’ve heard so much about,” said the former Atlanta Hawks player. “We are about to launch a new lab at our hospital so I’m very interested in the attached clinical laboratory. "

Mutombo (above, and right) tried on a powered air purifying respirator under the direction of nurse Jill Morgan, who cared for the first Ebola patient in the unit. He also tried out virtual reality programs created with a 360-degree camera. The immersive experience helps prepare health care workers to care for patients with Ebola and other infectious diseases—while wearing cumbersome protective suits. “The VR simulation does a good job of portraying your limited view and dexterity,” said infectious disease physician Aneesh Mehta.

In June, physician Ian Crozier accompanied a group from the American Society for Microbiology’s annual conference as they toured the unit where he spent 40 days recovering from Ebola virus disease. Crozier was the sickest of the four patients treated at Emory.

“As a physician, if you had told me that I would develop encephalopathy, respiratory failure, kidney failure, and cardiac arrhythmia, I would have expected my chances of survival to be almost zero,” Crozier says. “What happened inside those four walls changed the nature of how we treat Ebola patients.”

Emory’s efforts to prepare for future outbreaks have continued through research, improved patient care protocols, and training health care workers and first responders around the country.

“The government has called on Emory to care for patients with special pathogens in the U.S.,” says infectious disease physician Colleen Kraft. “We would like to take what we learned about preventing transmission of diseases in a biocontainment unit out into every health care setting and interaction.” Active drills continue for the SCDU staff, who must be prepared to reactivate the unit at a moment’s notice.

Email the editor