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Ebola or You?

Of all the reactions I’ve heard to Ebola’s arrival in America, only one shocks me:  the voice of surprise.

We’ve had two decades to figure out this thing, a god-awful hemorrhagic fever that kills 70 percent of its victims. First news of Ebola came for many of us from thriller writer Richard Preston, courtesy of his frightening bestseller, The Hot Zone.

Truth is, twice as long ago, healthcare workers first discovered the virus. It surfaced in 1976. In Africa. Convenient for us?

We Americans have been complacent too long about this ticking time bomb.

It’s past time we open our eyes and prepare for Round Two. Ebola will return to the U.S.—even bigger next time.

While we’re opening our eyes to the reality that is Ebola, let’s look at a scourge that never left.

Hospital-acquired infections (HAI) sicken 1.7 million Americans a year. Of these, 99,000 die. Translation: eleven Americans die every hour of every day from an infection they picked up at the hospital.

These infections occur, as the acronym implies, when patients, hospitalized for one illness, “acquire” another (two for the price of one?). HAI most commonly involves infections of the urinary tract, bloodstream, lungs (pneumonia), or surgical wounds.

Yet, studies prove that these infections can be avoided via simple, consistent steps by healthcare workers. Hand washing. Cleaning patient skin prior to procedures. Wearing hair covers, masks, gowns, and gloves.

And we were surprised when two Dallas nurses became infected from an Ebola patient?

It’s a national crisis, maybe even a scandal. That’s how I view it, thanks to personal experience.

In April, 2012, I suffered a stroke. One week after brain surgery, I developed life-threatening Klebsiella pneumonia, triggering Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). Death knocked on my ICU door more than once in the days that followed. Thanks to hyper-aggressive treatment, I somehow survived a double-whammy condition that kills half of its victims.

My doctors never determined exactly where the pneumonia originated. They did replace tracheostomy tubing inserted after I developed breathing problems during surgery.

It’s a common affliction—ventilator-assisted pneumonia—that affects one-third of all ventilated patients. For shorthand, medical professionals call it VAP.

When something becomes an acronym, you know it’s common. Marry two acronyms—VAP and HAI—and you’ve got a national scandal.

Nearly 200 Americans an hour are diagnosed with a new, hospital-acquired infection. Every hour of every day. We do nothing.

Where’s the public outrage? The political willpower to reduce these obscene numbers?

Instead, here we stand: a killer virus in our heartland; one patient dead; six patients recovered or still hospitalized.  One quarantine ended; another to lift in ten days.

The U.S. is moving on.

Not so the families of 271 Americans.

Today, they will lose a family member, someone they loved who will die from an infection picked up in the hospital—the place they went to get well.

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