UNMC News

National experts in infectious diseases and the country’s three biocontainment units to meet in Omaha to boost preparedness

National experts in infectious diseases and from the country’s three biocontainment units will meet during a conference Nov. 8 and 9 at the Marriott Regency motel, 10220 Regency Drive.
 
Attending the Biocontainment Unit Conference will be representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska Health and Human Services System, the University of Nebraska Medical Center and The Nebraska Medical Center and the Nebraska Center for Bioterrorism Preparedness.
 
Philip Smith, M.D., chief of the section of infectious diseases for UNMC and conference organizer, said the purpose of the conference is to further prepare biocontainment units for containment of infectious disease outbreaks.
 
The conference will look at many facets of biocontainment units, including their role, psychosocial, ethical, safety and care issues, design and equipment, diseases treated in the units and patient stress.
 
“There’s not a whole lot of medical literature about biocontainment units on which to draw knowledge,” Dr. Smith said. “The military has been working with these specialized units for a long time. Because there are so few of them, we need to draw upon expertise from each other to develop standards.”
 
The country’s largest and only biocontainment unit available for the public is housed on the University of Nebraska Medical Center campus in Omaha. The 10-bed unit, a joint venture between UNMC, The Nebraska Medical Center and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services System, was unveiled last March by Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, Julie Gerberding, M.D., director of the CDC, and other officials.
 
The unit, equipped to care for people exposed to highly contagious and dangerous diseases, was funded with federal money and contributions from UNMC and The Nebraska Medical Center.
 
The other biocontainment facilities in the country are two-bed units housed at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) in Ft. Detrick, Md., and the CDC’s unit at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
 
“It is very important to isolate the first cases of any kind of infectious disease outbreak and diagnose it in a safe environment until we find out what it is. It buys us some time and allows public health officials to get ready,” Dr. Smith said.
 
Dr. Smith said throughout history, most epidemics started small. He said in the beginning of an epidemic the goal is to contain the disease in a safe environment, confirm the diagnosis then plan for a public health response if the epidemic continues to spread.
 
“The SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak in Toronto in 2003 started from a single case. If we’d been as prepared then as we are today, the epidemic would have never occurred. Now we are on high alert,” Dr. Smith said. “If someone comes in after traveling from certain parts of the world with flu symptoms, we may isolate that person until we rule out Avian flu or SARS.”
 
He said hospitals and public health officials are more prepared than they were three or four years ago. “There’s better infrastructure. Virtually every county in Nebraska now has a public health department whereas before 9/11 they didn’t. If we have a massive disaster, nobody can deal with that smoothly. We haven’t solved all the issues, but we’re working on it and we’re much more prepared today,” he said.
 
In a potential case of Avian flu, Dr. Smith said he and Joann Schaefer, chief medical officer, Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services System would decide whether to open the 10-bed biocontainment unit.
 
Dr. Smith said another advantage of having the biocontainment unit on campus is the proximity of the Nebraska Public Health Laboratory. The lab provides infectious disease testing that enhances bioterrorism preparedness.

Contact

Vicky Cerino
UNMC Public Relations
(402) 559-5190
vcerino@unmc.edu