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Press Releases

NYC Health + Hospitals Leads Multi-Agency Training Exercise for Marburg Virus, an Ebola-Like Disease

"Patients" simulated symptoms of Marburg virus to test health care providers’ ability to quickly identify, isolate, and coordinate transport to NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue

During the drill, healthcare and EMS workers donned appropriate personal protective equipment and followed strict protocols to protect against exposure to the simulated pathogen

The risk of Marburg virus coming to New York City is very low

Aug 03, 2023

New York, NY

NYC Health + Hospitals yesterday led a training exercise testing the health care system’s ability to identify and isolate “patients” with simulated Marburg virus symptoms and safely transport them to NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue. Health care and EMS workers needed to wear hazmat suits and follow strict protocols to ensure their safety while handling the patients to prevent exposure to the pathogen. The Marburg virus, a cousin of the Ebola virus with a fatality rate as high as 80%, requires strict health and transport safety protocols in suspected patients. In the past year, there have been a small number of outbreaks of Marburg in Africa, including most recently in Tanzania and Equatorial Guinea this year. Both outbreaks have subsided. The risk of the Marburg virus coming to New York City is very low. The exercise was “no notice,” meaning health care workers seeing the two simulated patients did not know it was a drill until they successfully isolated the patient and notified the NYC Health Department of the suspected Marburg-infected patient. The exercise was a coordinated effort between the health system, the Fire Department’s Emergency Medical Services, the NYC Health Department, NYC Emergency Management, and the Office of Chief Medical Examiner.

“New York City is a national leader in understanding how to respond, transport, and treat highly infectious diseases like Ebola and Marburg,” said Syra Madad, Senior Director of the Systemwide Special Pathogens Program at NYC Health + Hospitals. “While the likelihood is very low that a virus as deadly as Marburg reaches our shores, this City prepares and trains year-round for any eventuality.”

“Unfortunately, our city is no stranger to treating infectious diseases like Ebola and Marburg, as we saw with the Ebola virus in 2014. Back then, our Paramedics, EMTs and Firefighters did tremendous work ensuring patient safety and the safety of all FDNY members who responded,” said Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh. “We know that success was the result of extensive training and planning, just like the drills we participated in today. We are proud to partner with NYC Health and Hospitals, NYC Emergency Management, NYC Health Department, and local hospitals to make sure we are prepared for every potential public health emergency possible.”

“Response readiness is a critical function for public health as we prepare for health emergencies, and is a key strategic priority for the Health Department to further strengthen in the post-COVID emergency era,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan. “Drills like these help our health professionals practice for extreme events, so they can focus on protecting their patients and the public when called upon. I’m grateful to our healthcare providers, our partners in government and those responding on the ground for their help in ensuring the health of our city, whatever comes our way.”

“Yesterday’s exercise is a demonstration of the interagency collaboration required to keep 8 million New York City residents safe. Over the last few years, we have experienced unprecedented emergencies due to weather events, accidents, and health emergencies. Each provides invaluable lessons for the next and exercises like today’s play the same role by enabling us to learn and be better prepared for the next one,” said NYC Emergency Management Commissioner Zach Iscol.

“We constantly need to practice swift and strong responses to protect New Yorkers from public health threats including highly lethal infectious diseases,” said Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Jason Graham. “Our recent experience with the COVID-19 pandemic shows the crucial role that OCME plays to manage decedents with safe protocols and support families touched by loss. We appreciate the opportunity to share this expertise with partners during the exercise yesterday and will be ready to assist with any and all future emergencies.”

The training exercise involved two different scenarios. The first scenario involved a “patient” who arrives at the emergency department of NYC Health + Hospitals/North Central Bronx with Marburg virus symptoms. The hospital staff has to recognize that the patient’s symptoms combined with travel history and other epidemiological risk factors suggest a potentially lethal virus. Then, they have to isolate the patient and notify the Health Department. The patient then “dies” in the ambulance, followed by a discussion with the Office of Chief Medical Examiner on the decedent management protocol for a patient with a highly lethal disease. In the second scenario, a patient arrives for a scheduled appointment at NYC Health + Hospitals/Gotham Health with the same scenario and symptoms as the first patient, and the team has to identify and isolate the patient. Both exercises allowed FDNY EMS to practice wearing full body personal protective equipment while taking care of a patient and undergoing decontamination protocol. 

NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue’s Special Pathogens Program is a founding partner of the National Emerging Special Pathogens Training and Education Center (NETEC) and one of 13 Regional Emerging Special Pathogen Treatment Centers (RESPTCs) throughout the country charged with developing a regional special pathogens response. The Bellevue Special Pathogens Program serves Region 2, which is made up of New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, leading the initial response to recent outbreaks like COVID-19 and Mpox, advancing infectious disease preparedness, and providing training and education. The Special Pathogens Program maintains a constant state of readiness to safely manage patients with confirmed Ebola and other severe infectious diseases.

The event included regional, national, and international observers from organizations including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Greater New York Hospital Association, the New York State Department of Health, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate, The BioDefense Commission and The White House.


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About NYC Health + Hospitals

NYC Health + Hospitals is the largest municipal health care system in the nation serving more than a million New Yorkers annually in more than 70 patient care locations across the city’s five boroughs. A robust network of outpatient, neighborhood-based primary and specialty care centers anchors care coordination with the system’s trauma centers, nursing homes, post-acute care centers, home care agency, and MetroPlus health plan—all supported by 11 essential hospitals. Its diverse workforce of more than 43,000 employees is uniquely focused on empowering New Yorkers, without exception, to live the healthiest life possible. For more information, visit www.nychealthandhospitals.org and stay connected on FacebookTwitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.