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La. nurses want Ebola protection information; state identifies incinerator for Ebola waste

Nurses around Louisiana, like nurses around the country, want to make sure they have the right information and gear to protect themselves should they need to care for Ebola patients.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Health and Hospitals and the Department of Environmental Quality said it has identified a commercial incinerator in Webster Parish that is capable of reaching the temperatures needed to safely dispose of Ebola waste if needed.

DEQ spokesman Gregory Langley said Stericycle in Springhill, La., has the needed permits from the state. But concerns persist in many Louisiana hospitals driven by news that two nurses who treated deceased Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan have contracted the life-threatening virus.

"Nurses are the first line of defense with patients,” said Catherine Lopez, DHEd, R.N., who is Assistant Dean for Student Services at the LSU Health Sciences center, also called LSU Health.

Lopez is also a member of the Louisiana State Nurses Association and for 30 years she work in infection control and just before the interview for this story she participated in a conference call with the CDC to get the latest updates.

"It is a legitimate concern of not knowing what the patient has, but we should treat all patients as [if] they're potentially infectious, put on what we need to protect ourselves, report if we've been exposed and follow the latest guidelines to protect ourselves if we are exposed,” she said.

She said the CDC conference call provided information on new and changing protocols.

“They've included the use of, instead of the regular surgical booties, the plastic boots, they're called boot covers, they come way up," she said. "Using buddies to help and really using dedicated staff, not just everybody running in a patient's room, knowing which nurses are going to be taking care of the patients.”

Still, Lopez said this is no time for panic, she says solid information on how health care professionals can protect themselves is key, as well as adherence to procedures.

"I've talked to lots of people across the state, we're spending a lot of time and energy trying to re-educate people to calm people down, to remind them to take the few seconds, thinking about what you're going to do and we have a really smart, well educated group of nurses in Louisiana,” said Lopez.

And on the public education front, the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved emergency rules giving school principals sweeping new authority to close public schools if they believe there is a threat.

But students who have not been diagnosed with a communicable disease, but are quarantined because of exposure or direct contact with someone with contagious deadly diseases must continue to receive educational services, and their absenteeism if due to a quarantine ordered by the state or local health officials must be excused.

Some parents welcomed the steps, while others said they are not particularly concerned about Ebola.

“I think for right now it's good to take precautions for anything to protect your kids, so it's important with all the viruses going around,” said Terrence Matthews who has two children in public schools.

So does Ann Woodruff. She said she is not spending a lot of time thinking about Ebola, but said it is not consuming her thoughts even though she has children in public school.

"If your kid has a fever they should be at home anyway and if you don't have a fever you're not contagious, correct, with Ebola,” said Woodruff.

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