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Daily Archives: September 1, 2008

US hospitals on lockdown after unknown substance exposure

Two US hospitals were put on emergency lockdown Saturday after several patients arrived at St. Louis, Missouri emergency rooms after being exposed to an unknown substance, hospital officials said.
Hazardous materials teams rushed to the hospitals after patients entered complaining of exposure to an mysterious powder, and the teams began decontamination of the patients and dozens of people quarantined after coming in contact with the patients.
"Several patients came to St. Anthony's Emergency Department from a site in East St. Louis, Illinois with an unknown chemical exposure," St. Anthony's Medical Center spokeswoman Mary Jo Wich said in a statement on the hospital's website.
"As a precaution for our patients, visitors and employees, access to the entire hospital campus initially was restricted," she said.
Restrictions on the hospital's non-emergency areas were subsequently lifted, but the emergency department "will remain closed until the nature and extent of the exposure is determined," Wich said.
Mehlville Fire Protection chief Jim Silvernail said the powder was believed to be a hazardous material and caused respiratory problems among those exposed, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported on its website.
Jamie Newell, a spokeswoman for SSM DePaul Health Center in Bridgeton, Missouri near St. Louis, said three men who "came in contact with a dangerous substance" were admitted to the facility Saturday afternoon and that the emergency department was put on lockdown shortly threafter.
The men were in fair condition and recovering, she said.
"Fifteen employees and one patient had to be decontaminated as a precaution… but we don't believe that anybody else has been harmed," Newell said.
She said officials had identified the substance, and though they had not publicly named it Newell said it was not viral — meaning a widespread airborne contamination was not likely.
Local television station KMOV reported that two patients were in critical condition at SSM DePaul Health Center but Newell denied the report.
KMOV reported that the cases were likely linked to people who were exposed to a substance while rooting through a dumpster in East St. Louis.
News of the exposures emerged as Republican presidential hopeful John McCain was preparing to fly to St. Louis ahead of a rally yesterday in nearby O'Fallon, Missouri.
There is "no change of plans at this point" McCain spokeswoman Kimmie Lipscomb said.

Tensions rise as Gaza doctors strike against Hamas sackings

Tensions rose in the Gaza Strip as doctors struck for a second day yesterday to protest what they said was the Hamas-run government's firing of health workers loyal to the rival Fatah movement.
Participation in the strike climbed to around 90 percent, a senior medical official at Gaza City's main Al-Shifa hospital said, as patients lined up in hospital waiting rooms across the impoverished territory.
Emergency health workers and doctors loyal to Hamas are still working.
The medical official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Hamas-run security forces had started rounding up doctors and health workers and taking them to hospitals by force.
The doctors went on strike Saturday to protest the sacking of some 50 doctors and other health workers by the Hamas-run health ministry, saying the decision was politically motivated.
Hamas has downplayed the doctors strike and blamed both it and a teachers strike launched last week on Palestinian president and Fatah party leader Mahmud Abbas's government in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Palestinians have been deeply divided along factional lines since Hamas seized power in Gaza in June 2007 after routing security forces loyal to Abbas.
Abbas's government, which still pays the salaries of civil servants in Gaza, including the health workers, has denied any involvement in the strike.
A similar strike was held this time last year when the Hamas-run government fired veteran surgeon Jumaa al-Saqaa, a die-hard Fatah supporter, from his post as the spokesman for Al-Shifa hospital.