Missoula hospital on Ebola transfer shortlist

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MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — The specialized training and equipment in a Missoula hospital puts it on the shortlist of places to transfer a patient with the Ebola virus, including a person diagnosed in another country in need a higher level of care, Montana's communicable diseases chief said Thursday.

St. Patrick Hospital is one of a very few medical facilities in the U.S. with the training and isolation procedures to handle Ebola patients, said Jim Murphy, communicable disease bureau chief for the state Department of Public Health and Human Services.

St. Patrick's Sensitive Care and Isolation Unit is empty now, but that could change, he told The Associated Press.

"There are other hospitals in the U.S. that are capable of safely dealing with Ebola, they just don't have the level of training and equipment," Murphy said. "I think Missoula is a little bit special and that does mean somebody could be transferred here."

The public should be notified if an Ebola patient is transferred to the hospital, health officials told the Missoulian.

One person in the U.S. has been diagnosed with the virus, which is believed to have killed more than 3,300 people in West Africa.

There is a very remote risk of Ebola spreading in the U.S., and currently there are no suspected cases or people who have had contact with the virus in Montana, Murphy said. However, some 3,500 Montana health-care providers are being informed of how to spot signs and symptoms and how to take patient histories from people who have traveled in Ebola-affected areas, he said.

Symptoms can include fever, muscle pain, vomiting and bleeding, and can appear up to 21 days after exposure. The disease spreads only by close contact with an infected person's bodily fluids.

Outside the Missoula hospital, the response to a suspected case would be similar to the isolation procedures taken in other cases of communicable disease, such as measles.

"With Ebola, the stakes are much higher but the systems are in place to respond," Murphy said.

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