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Special permits needed to dispose of Ebola-tainted materials

The delay in getting Ebola-contaminated waste removed from a Dallas apartment where Liberian national Thomas Duncan stayed before being admitted into the hospital with a confirmed case of the virus prompted questions about how a similar situation would be handled here.

In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals said:

"Federal and state regulations require every hospital to have procedures and contracts in place for the safe disposal of regulated medical waste and other hazardous material. Materials contaminated with the Ebola virus are classified as Category A infectious substances according to federal regulations and require special permitting from the U.S. Department of Transportation for their safe handling and disposal. This procedure was followed in Texas, and should an Ebola case occur in Louisiana, we would work with our local hospital and federal partners to ensure the hospital's contractor secured the necessary federal permitting to allow for the safe disposal of any related hazardous materials."

"We believe that the likelihood of an Ebola breakout in Louisiana is highly unlikely, but we still must be prepared," said State Sen. David Heitmeier, D-New Orleans.

Heitmeier chairs the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.

"Our public health system is very good at isolating any type of known threat," said Heitmeier.

Harry "Chip" Cahill, who is chairman of the West Jefferson Medical Center Board, said the incident last month involving sick seamen aboard a ship registered in Liberia and docked in New Orleans was a test, of sorts, for the West Jefferson Medical Center staff.

"We were fortunate enough to have a real test run when we had the malaria patient in a couple of weeks ago," said Cahill. "The patient has now been released."

And now concerns by those in the public health field about why a nurse in Spain has contracted Ebola even though she didn't travel to West Africa. She did, however, care for an Ebola-stricken patient.

"That is a concern, and there's good reason that the European Union is asking for very careful investigation as to how she got infected - whether there was some sort of breakdown in infection control protocol," said Susan McClellan, M.D., MPH, of Tulane's School of Public Health.

McClellan was on the ground in Sierra Leone fighting the war against Ebola.

"When I was taking care of Ebola patients, I knew where I was and I had my gear on, and so on," said McLellan.

In Dallas, linens used by Thomas and other personal effects remained untouched for days in the apartment where he stayed after arriving in the U.S.

The Centers for Disease Control has guidelines on handling patient waste inside hospitals.

'"And they're working with the Department of Transportation to develop guidelines with which everyone will be comfortable in terms of taking infectious waste outside of the hospital and disposing of it," said McLellan.

Cahill said a meeting will be held in Jefferson Parish this week to discuss such issues.

"That's one of the reasons we're getting together Thursday to make sure that all of the hospitals are doing everything the same way because we all have the same chance of getting a patient," he said.

And despite what happened in Dallas and the latest case involving the nurse in Spain, public health officials in Louisiana continue to emphasize that everyone needs to take a deep breath and keep a healthy perspective when it comes to Ebola.

"I certainly sat in the same chairs that people sat in, I got in the same vehicles that other people got in to," said McLellan.

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