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Congress' Doctor: Ebola Precautions Are in Place

On Sept. 11, Senate Chaplain Barry Black prayed for relief from Ebola during an event in the Senate Swamp. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call FIle Photo)

With fear of an Ebola outbreak on the rise, the attending physician of Congress is assuring the congressional community that a carefully developed protocol is in place at the Capitol to handle a potential infectious disease outbreak.  

In an eight minute video posted on an internal website, Dr. Brian Monahan gave an overview of Ebola's spread and said the medical personnel at the Office of the Attending Physician "always take standard precautions when caring for patients, regardless of their presumed diagnosis."  

That includes basic hand hygiene and using protective equipment to block splashes or other contact with bodily fluids when treating everyone from sick senators to injured tourists. The attending physician operates 10 clinics, located in the Capitol, the House and Senate office buildings, the Supreme Court and the Capitol Visitor Center. "We have very carefully developed protocols in place at the U.S. Capitol to respond to the needs of sick patients and arrange for their subsequent diagnosis and care by local hospital personnel," Monahan said, after explaining travel risks associated with the deadliest recorded outbreak of the disease, and how it is transmitted between humans.  

The message arrived the same week that Dulles International Airport began preparing to screen travelers from West African nations, and top health officials from Virginia and the District of Columbia governments briefed local leaders on how the National Capital Region has planned for and would respond to Ebola.  

Though patients have been hospitalized here for Ebola-like symptoms, no cases have been diagnosed in the Washington area.  

"This is very important to understand," Monahan emphasized. "You cannot catch the disease [from] well-appearing people, nor can you catch it by breathing the air around them."  

House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul D. Irving and Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Drew Willison shared the video with congressional personnel on Wednesday afternoon, in an email emphasizing there is "no indication of an immediate concern."  

The chamber's top law enforcement officers encouraged congressional offices to make sure they have up-to-date continuity of operations plans, described as "an excellent way to prepare your office for any type of crisis, including those created by contagious diseases."  

The House Administration Committee is also coordinating help spread the word and raise awareness.  

Monahan said his office has been following developments in West Africa and the United States since June. On Aug. 8, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak an international public health emergency. There have been 24 previous outbreaks of Ebola, but this case is the largest and most complex yet, with more diagnosed cases and deaths than all other outbreaks combined.  

Monahan noted the places most severely affected "have very weak health systems," and said his office is working closely with regional health officials.  

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