By Nithya Rajagopalan, Copy Editor
On Aug. 5, the third American victim of the Ebola virus arrived at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha for treatment. American physician Richard Sacra, who contracted Ebola while working with a missionary group to deliver children in Liberia, is being treated at UNMC’s biocontainment center.
Designed specifically to contain contagious and lethal diseases, this biocontainment unit employs several measures to ensure public safety, including physical isolation and a discrete air circulation system.
“This is a specially designed unit,” said Dr. Mark Rupp, a UNMC epidemiologist. “It’s locked, it’s secured, it’s separated physically. It has negative air pressure hepa filtration of the air. It’s not recirculated air.”
A biocontainment facility with such public health security features is rare—in fact, UNMC is one of only four medical centers across the United States which are capable of managing high-risk patients such as Sacra. On Aug. 1, the U.S. Department of State visited UNMC’s biocontainment unit and determined it to be a center qualified to handle American patients with the Ebola virus, alongside the nationally renowned Emory University Medical Center.
“The fact that the U.S. State Department requested the transfer of Dr. Sacra here is a tremendous honor for UNMC, but more importantly, it’s in the best interest of Dr. Sacra and the public,” second-year UNMC medical student Drew Dickson said. “I am confident that the virus will be contained and Dr. Sacra will receive the best treatment possible.”
Despite the extensive measures implemented to ensure public safety, there does remain a minimal risk to the campus and Omaha community at large. However, UNMC students, physicians and faculty continue to herald the decision to treat Sacra at their campus as a medical responsibility and as a moral imperative.
“This is why we, as an academic medical center, exist—to treat the sickest patients with the most highly trained staff, when those patients have nowhere else to turn,” UNMC Chancellor Dr. Jeffrey Gold said. “This is what it means to be leaders in medicine—practicing the most serious medicine there is.”