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Inside an Ebola isolation unit: How doctors, nurses protect themselves

Caring for patients with Ebola comes with very strict guidelines for hospital workers. TODAY’s Matt Lauer observed the procedures firsthand during a visit last month to Emory University Hospital’s isolation unit, where health care officials successfully treated Ebola patients Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol.With questions now being raised about a possible protocol breach that led to a Dall

Caring for patients with Ebola comes with very strict guidelines for hospital workers. TODAY’s Matt Lauer observed the procedures firsthand during a visit last month to Emory University Hospital’s isolation unit, where health care officials successfully treated Ebola patients Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol.

With questions now being raised about a possible protocol breach that led to a Dallas nurse contracting the virus from Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian victim who carried the disease to Texas, here's a look at the meticulous precautions in place at Emory to treat someone infected with Ebola, or any other highly infectious disease.

Putting on the protective gear is always done in pairs.

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Suiting up can take up to 20 minutes, and partners observe each other's every move: “We're watching each other for safety,” says Emory nurse Jill Morgan.

Two sets of gloves and boots.

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"We tape our first set of gloves on," Morgan says.

The suit also includes a helmet with a built-in fan.

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The fan pulls outside air through a filter “so he’s never breathing any air from the outside room,” Morgan says.

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"We're trying to make sure we don't carry any of that contamination out of that room."

 Workers may stay inside the isolation room for up to four hours at a time.

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“When we are in that room, you are all in. Eating, drinking, taking a bathroom break all wait until you can come out of that suit,” Morgan says.

A second suited-up person always observes from outside, both as a backup and to watch for any mistakes or signs of contamination.

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“If I see anything that might be dangerous for them then we're going to interrupt that behavior right away,” Morgan says.

Leaving the isolation unit

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The risk for self-contamination is highest when health care workers leave the isolation room and take off their suit, Morgan said. A three- to five-minute shower body scrub always follows. 

“It’s important to keep whatever's in this room, in this room, and keep it from getting out into any part of the environment," Morgan says.