Senior nurse at TTSH not fearful of Ebola virus

PROTECTED: Nurse manager Lee Lai Ming acts as a spotter to make sure senior staff nurse Naw Hser Bwe follows protocol when putting on her Personal Protective Equipment.

She worked on Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) when it hit Singapore in 2003.

Now she is ready for a different battle, should Singapore be exposed again - to the deadly Ebola virus.

Senior staff nurse Naw Hser Bwe is one of the staff at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) who has stepped up to become part of the hospital's Ebola Swat team.

Comprising not just doctors and nurses, the newly assembled team also includes lab technicians, drivers, ambulance attendants, housekeepers and those who manage biohazard waste.

After all, these are the frontliners who will come into contact with what the clinical director at the Communicable Disease Centre (CDC) Leo Yee Sin calls "a messy disease".

Said Ms Naw, 49: "I am not fearful because of the constant training provided by the hospital on the precautions. We wore only one layer during Sars but this time, we have to put on two to ensure we do not get infected."

She added that her family members back home in Myanmar know that she is part of the Swat team, and are praying for her health and safety.


Like her, nurse manager Lee Lai Ming, who is in her 50s, has also stepped up to the challenge.

She, too, worked during Sars in 2003.

Should the disease come into Singapore, she will choose to stay in the alternative housing provided by the hospital, said Madam Lee, who heads the nursing team at the newly renovated Ward 70, an Ebola-designated ward.

"It is just to be extra careful not to spread it to my family and the community. With today's technology, I can always keep in touch. I can use Skype, like I did when my sons were overseas," she added.

Ebola is a deadly viral disease that affects the gut, causing patients to bleed, vomit and suffer from diarrhoea. It is spread through direct contact with the blood or bodily fluids of an infected person.

It has taken nearly 4,900 lives in seven countries, according to the World Health Organisation.

The disease has no specific cure yet and the Health Ministry's Director of Medical Services Ben Ong said "complacency is not the approach to take."

That is why members of the Ebola Swat team have been put through rigorous and repeated drills on safety to make sure they are ready.

To ensure the safety of its Ebola Swat team, TTSH - the designated centre for Ebola cases here - has also stepped up its infection control guidelines, including maintaining a log of all staff who enter the room of an Ebola patient.

"Staff-to-patient ratio will be maintained to ensure the number is appropriate in meeting infected patients' needs safely," Professor Leo told a roomful of reporters at a technical briefing yesterday.

"As there is no common standard in suiting up in the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), we have also modified the PPE to ensure there is adequate enhanced donning and removing of it, to make sure every inch of skin and mucous membrane is covered," said Prof Leo.

Installed outside each of the 13 negative-pressured isolation wards at the CDC is a full-length mirror so staff can check if they have put the PPE on accordingly.

"A trained spotter will also be on hand to actively provide safety checks to make sure each staff follows protocol when they put on or remove the PPE," she added.

Mr Koh Peng Keng, group director of operations at the Health Ministry, said there are 10,000 full sets of equipment made available to staff at TTSH in preparation for an Ebola situation.

To ensure that the waste discharged from the en suite toilets in the isolation rooms are safe, TTSH will pump it into a disinfection tank and douse it with sodium hydrochloride.

As for the safety of the community, Professor Ong said that additional screening measures at Changi Airport arrival halls to guard against the spread of Ebola into Singapore have been introduced. A mechanism is already in place for contact tracing.

The New Paper understands that the People's Association chalets in Pasir Ris have been designated as the quarantine centre. "I hope that we never have to activate them," Prof Ong said.

This article was first published on October 25, 2014. Get The New Paper for more stories.