Via The Dallas Morning News: Dallas Ebola responders could learn from Toronto's 2003 SARS outbreak. Excerpt:
In 2002, a new human disease emerged in China and traveled around the world at the speed of a jet plane.
The virus, known as SARS, which stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, caused a deadly form of pneumonia. It spread to 30 countries, killed hundreds of people and hit Toronto the hardest of any city outside Asia.
Then, within a few months, the outbreak ended. Today, many experts regard SARS as a public health success story. As the U.S. grapples with its first cases of Ebola, the Canadian city’s experience with SARS offers timely lessons.
First, early setbacks do not preclude later success. Training hospital staffs to protect themselves and others from infection requires military precision. And the ability to quickly admit and learn from errors is crucial.
“It was initially a scary time here, as I am sure it is there today,” said Dr. Bjug Borgundvaag, director of the Schwartz/Reisman Emergency Medical Institute at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital. It treated dozens of SARS patients in 2003.
Ebola should be simpler to contain than SARS, which is an airborne disease that’s spread from coughs and sneezes. Patients can only contract Ebola if they have had close contact with infected bodily fluids such as blood, vomit or feces.
Also, while SARS was brand new to doctors everywhere, scientists have studied Ebola for years.
“With SARS, no one knew what we were dealing with, so we had to learn on the fly,” said Mary Ferguson-Paré, the former chief nurse executive at University Health Network, a group of hospitals in Toronto.
As with Ebola in Dallas, the early response to SARS was rocky. Toronto initially missed public health warnings about severe flu symptoms in travelers returning from China and Hong Kong.
Canada’s first victims spread SARS to health care workers, visitors and other patients. Eventually, more than 400 Canadians fell ill, nearly half of them hospital staff. Forty-four patients died.
Just as in Dallas, experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention blamed Toronto hospital infections on “breaches in protocol.” The hospitals initially took the comments as veiled criticism but then redoubled their efforts to train caregivers.
“We learned from things as they happened,” Borgundvaag said.